With the European elections fast approaching a perennial ethical issue has cropped up again for local media – whether or not they should take advertising from the British National Party.
While journalists on papers often abhor the disruptive influence the BNP has in the communities they serve, commercial departments will argue that it is not their job to make ethical judgments about the people who advertise provided the ads themselves are within guidelines.
Last year there was a row at Archant’s London titles, including the Ham & High, over their taking adverts from the BNP ahead of the local elections.
This time Jon Slattery has highlighted the fact that Newsquest is taking BNP ads on many of its local newspaper websites in and around London.
One Newsquest journalist has spoken out against the ad placements, telling Slattery: “It’s difficult enough keeping the extremists off your messageboards with our policy to only remove comments when reported – allowing the BNP an even more legitimate platform like this undermines the credibility of the paper.
“There’s already calls to boycott Newsquest papers on Twitter.”
But the editorial director of The Echo in Essex, Martin McNeill, has robustly defended taking the BNP’s cash, saying:
“The Echo has consistently opposed the BNP in our Comment column and will continue to do so. As editor, I have twice been taken to court, unsuccessfully, by a BNP activist who did not like my editorial stance. I also regularly receive BNP hate mail.
“Despite this, I feel I must defend the right of all parties to take out paid-for advertising in support of their election candidates.”
The problem is highlighted by this story in the Newsquest-owned Kidderminster Shuttle:
Which was juxtaposed with this advert:
This is a case where journalists are justified in getting involved with a commercial decision. They are the ones with their feet on the ground in the communities they serve and have to make a call on whether taking such adverts damages the good name of their newspaper title.
While I sympathise with Martin McNeill’s free speech argument, I would argue that it is not worth taking the BNP’s money for the damage it does your newspaper’s image.
Having a BNP advert appearing alongside journalism which highlights the damage they do to communities does not look good.
Local newspapers are about binding communities together and the BNP, with its policy of repatriating foreign immigrants, stands for the opposite of that.