Andrew Neil calls out Tory Islamophobia, but accidentally highlights media’s double standards on racism

Journalist Andrew Neil next to Conservative MP Henry Smith
Joshua Funnell

Tensions are running high over alleged Labour antisemitism this week. But in a rare media moment, journalist Andrew Neil confronted the Conservatives about a slightly forgotten scandal in UK politics: Tory Islamophobia.

And although Neil’s questioning is welcome, it accidentally revealed a lot about the media’s bias and its unequal approach to racism.

“I have never come across any of that in the Conservative Party”

On BBC Politics Live on 28 February, Neil questioned Conservative MP Henry Smith. Neil seemed to mock Tory talking points that refer to Labour as a ‘once great British party, now lost to antisemitism’. He said:

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isn’t it also rather sad that a once great – other British party, I think called ‘the Conservatives’ – also has its elements of Islamophobia in it?

Smith responded by saying something that would be unthinkable for a Labour MP to say about antisemitism. He denied there was any problem at all that he was aware of:

This was later rebuffed by a former Conservative minister and Muslim, Baroness Sayeeda Warsi. Warsi has previously called for an inquiry into Conservative Party Islamophobia. She tweeted:

Guardian journalist Dawn Foster had already confronted the Tory hypocrisy on this issue:

Neil accidentally acknowledges the media’s double standards on racism

However, aside from the Tory MP’s predictable denial, more revealing were Neil’s own comments. Neil said to Smith:

and because of the row over antisemitism you’ve got away with this.

Neil’s comments accidentally shed light on the hypocrisy of the media and its failure to adopt a balanced approach to the two issues. People rightly question why the media obsesses over Labour antisemitism, yet ignores Tory Islamophobia. Why is one a two-year long scandal and the other a forgotten footnote?

The media’s focus on antisemitism isn’t inevitable, it’s a choice. And so Neil should more accurately have said to Smith of Islamophobia: ‘because we the media have no interest in holding the Conservative Party to the same standards over racism as Labour, we have let you get away with it’.

Evidence of the media ignoring Tory Islamophobia

The Conservatives’ record on racism speaks for itself after Windrush. And although they ignore their problems with racism, it is unforgivable for the media to. The media whose job, after all, is to hold to account the party of government. Especially when the media seems to have no such problem providing incredible levels of scrutiny to the Labour Party on issues of racism.

For example, as the furore grew around Chris Williamson, Laura Kuenssberg of the BBC was quick to tweet:

I asked Kuenssberg the following:

And the evidence of my contention that “I haven’t heard you mention this once” seems well founded. As Evolve Politics tweeted, regarding Kuennsberg’s record:

And also regarding Iain Watson of the BBC, Evolve Politics documents that:

And as journalist Omar Baggili commented of Smith’s denial of racism on Politics Live:

Beyond the BBC, journalist Basit Mahmood, writing for Media Diversified, makes the wider point that:

Given that so much of our tabloid press produces sensationalist and misleading stories about Muslims, whether it be the Times’ false Muslim foster families story or the Sun’s claim that 1 in 5 British Muslims support ISIS, not to mention the daily articles that suggest the entire community is “a threat within”, “forcing schoolchildren to eat halal meat”, or trying to “ban Christmas”, is it little wonder that many fail to hold power to account when it comes to Islamophobia?

Media bias is letting the Tories get away with racism

Compared with some of the poor records above, Neil’s raising of the issue is welcome. But he has accidentally highlighted the terrible imbalance in wider reporting of these issues.

This is destructive for antiracism. Because currently Labour supporters only see the media dealing with racism energetically in a one-sided manner. And as this is so destructive to their party, while the Conservatives walk scot-free, some conclude it’s a media smear. The tragedy of this is that real victims of racism may then be ignored by sceptics.

If the media genuinely wants people to take racism seriously the answer is simple: deal with it fairly. It isn’t ‘whataboutery’ to ask it to do so.

Featured image via Twitter – BBC Politics

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