There is nothing more frightening than to see Geert Wilders, the far-right Dutch leader who compared Islam to Nazism, emerge as the linchpin in a new government in the Netherlands, and Sweden Democrats, skinheads in suits, march into parliament by winning 20 seats. If you add momentous events such as the expulsion of Roma people from France or the steady progress made by other far-right outfits such as Barbara Rosenkranz’ Freedom Party in Austria which says that anti-Nazi laws should be abolished or the English Defence League in the UK, fuelled by a visceral and violent anti-Muslim hatred, there is no doubt that a right-wing wind is blowing all over Europe with Islamophobia and anti-Semitism rearing their ugly heads.
This raises many questions about the role of journalists and the way they deal with hate speech and inflammatory language that turn communities against one another. It is in this context that I participated last night in a debate in London organised by my union, the National Union of Journalists, entitled “Race, Diversity and the New Political Landscape”. The NUJ organises every year during Black History Month, a lecture in partnership with The Guardian newspaper to commemorate the work and life of Claudia Jones, a pioneer of Black journalism in the UK.
This year’s keynote speaker, Professor Gargi Bhattacharyya from Aston University in Birmingham, made a shrewd analysis of the current crisis which has revealed major cracks and set out a new political landscape, promising hard times for the most vulnerable in terms of job cuts, attacks on public services, education, social housing, and all round austerity which threaten Black communities in particular. The crux of the debate, which involved journalists, academics and representatives of community groups, was that it is time to rethink our aspirations and our strategies – and to begin from a serious appraisal of where we are. How people understand the present will shape what they choose to do, and media professionals, who are also in the line of attack, have a key role to play in informing those choices.