Regional editors have to make a lot of tough calls. One of the toughest is how to deal with extreme political groups.
Do you treat them in the same way you would any other party? Do you allow their views to be published in your paper, however unpalatable they might be? Or do you deny them the oxygen of publicity in the hope that without it their growth might be stifled? The Argus in Brighton is one paper that has opted broadly for the latter. Its approach to the extreme right-wing British National Party, for example, is to generally ignore everything it does, apart from reporting the facts of how many votes it wins after elections.
The Argus believes groups like the BNP should be treated like bomb hoaxers: the fewer people you tell about them, the less effective they will be.
It’s not a view that’s shared by local anti-fascist pressure groups, who fear that with European Parliamentary elections looming in June, the BNP may win seats by mobilising voters in polls where overall turnout is traditionally very low.
They believe the best way to stop the party is to expose its threat in the local press and thereby encourage readers who might not otherwise vote to stop its candidates at the polls.
But The Argus decided not to print a story from the group United Against Fascism, which urged voters to turn out against the BNP – on the grounds that it would lend credence to those who crave a respectability they don’t deserve.
In Yorkshire, where fascist groups including the BNP and the National Democratic Party have campaigned strongly in recent years, editors face a similar problem.
The Yorkshire Evening Post’s policy is to deny them any comment or right of reply, but also to actively campaign against them. It carried a front-page comment prior to the elections last year with the splash: “Don’t be fooled – behind the suits and the new election image, the BNP is still the party for Nazi sympathisers, criminals and racist thugs.”
The paper will adopt a similar stance this time – particularly as there will be a postal voting experiment in Yorkshire – even if it does draw further attention to the parties.
Tough calls indeed.
The regional press has great influence. And a great array of tools at its disposal. Is silence really the best one to choose?