The BBC has defended its decision to broadcast Enoch Powell’s divisive speech

BBC Radio 4 and Enoch Powell
Fréa Lockley

On 14 April, BBC Radio 4 will broadcast Enoch Powell’s infamous ‘Rivers of blood’ speech in full. And while the BBC has defended its position, the decision to broadcast has drawn widespread criticism, including from those who contributed to the programme.

‘Rivers of blood’

On 20 April 1968, MP Enoch Powell gave an anti-immigration speech to Conservatives in Birmingham. This came days before the second reading of the 1968 Race Relations Act in parliament. Powell was subsequently dismissed from the shadow cabinet by Edward Heath, who said:

I have told Mr Powell that I consider the speech he made in Birmingham yesterday to have been racialist in tone and liable to exacerbate racial tensions. This is unacceptable from one of the leaders of the Conservative Party.

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The BBC said “there would be ‘rigorous journalistic analysis’ and the show was not endorsing controversial views”. But many are critical. Labour peer Andrew Adonis asked Ofcom not to broadcast “the most incendiary racist speech of modern Britain”:

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And many took to Twitter, concerned that the broadcast will perpetuate anti-immigration racist views:

Sadly, they’re right:

Indefensible?

Enoch Powell is a “hero” of the far right:

the phrase “Enoch was right” has been used by people as a shorthand to say that immigrants should be sent back to where they came from.

But both the BBC and its media editor Amol Rajan defended the programme:

However, Shirin Hirsch, an academic who contributed to the show, was unhappy and “disgusted” with the BBC. She said on Twitter:

Disgusted by the way the BBC are promoting this show. I made a mistake and was interviewed for this but I have been sick with worry since seeing the way this is being presented.

But at first, the BBC didn’t responded to her concerns:

I haven’t signed anything but the producers are not answering my calls or emails where I am clearly asking for my quotes to be withdrawn. I spoke to one producer today who said it was too late to withdraw.

And she thanked those who offered support:

Thanks. I’m still hoping my section will be withdrawn from the show. When I was asked to be interviewed I wasn’t told the full speech would be played. but I should have been more careful. Whole experience has been terrible.

Finally, at 4.20pm on 12 April, she announced that the BBC had removed her contributions, and she deleted her previous tweets.

Right-wing

Although it seems unlikely that there will be any further change to the broadcast, it lands against the backdrop of an “unprecedented spike in hate crime against ethnic minorities”. Figures from 2016-17 revealed a 29% rise in hate crime. Not only is the UK press the “most right-wing” in Europe, it was also the “most aggressive” in reporting on Europe’s ‘migrant’ crisis.

Following Powell’s speech, hideous racist attacks took place:

And fifty years later, racism is still rife in the UK, even if it goes largely unreported by the BBC:

Despite its defence of the programme, the BBC will broadcast a racist speech.

Racism is racism. There’s no way round this. And there’s no excuse for sharing words that should never have been spoken in the first place.

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