No one’s laughing at the BBC’s ‘joke’ about Boris Johnson’s Islamophobia

BBC logo and Boris Johnson
Tracy Keeling

People are accusing the BBC of making a “joke” about Boris Johnson’s Islamophobia. And no one is finding it remotely funny.


BBC Radio 4‘s PM programme reported on Boris Johnson’s attack on women who wear burqas. The Conservative Party chairman has instructed the ex-foreign secretary to apologise after he wrote that the women look like ‘letterboxes’ and ‘bank robbers’. So far, Johnson has refused.

PM, however, took the idiotic decision to report on the story using a ‘clever’ pun. Its presenter said:

Conservatives urge Boris Johnson to draw a veil over his remarks on Muslims.

The broadcaster’s inappropriate wordplay didn’t amuse its listeners, though:

And in light of the media’s coverage of Johnson’s remarks, this extraordinary misjudgement is hardly a surprise.

Double standards

Following wall-to-wall coverage of accusations lobbed at Jeremy Corbyn over antisemitism, the reporting on Johnson has been striking. Because the ex-foreign secretary clearly made dehumanising and demonising statements about these women based on their religious affiliation. By the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s standards [pdf], and the Labour Party’s, that’s racism.

But the media isn’t describing it as such. The BBC has said elsewhere that Johnson’s comments amount to a “jibe”. Meanwhile, here’s how Newsnight‘s political correspondent described his language:

Boris Johnson is of course known for language that can be colourful but often becomes highly controversial. And I think this is fairly firmly one of those occasions.

Dangerous cynicism

Johnson’s remarks, however, aren’t just “controversial”. They’re dangerous. Not only because the racist language may invigorate the already rejuvenated far right further (a far right which Johnson seems to have been courting anyway), but also due to the fact that Islamophobic hate crimes in the UK are surging – against Muslim women in particular.

Despite this, the media is downplaying the problem of Islamophobia in Britain – and its prevalence in the Conservative Party – through its choice of language. It even apparently thinks its okay to have a little “joke” about it from time to time.

Get Involved!

Find out more about Islamophobia in the UK with Tell MAMA.

Read more from The Canary about Boris Johnson and the BBC.

Join The Canary if you appreciate the work we do.

Featured image via BBC News – Wikimedia and Guardian News – YouTube

We need your help ...

The coronavirus pandemic is changing our world, fast. And we will do all we can to keep bringing you news and analysis throughout. But we are worried about maintaining enough income to pay our staff and minimal overheads.

Now, more than ever, we need a vibrant, independent media that holds the government to account and calls it out when it puts vested economic interests above human lives. We need a media that shows solidarity with the people most affected by the crisis – and one that can help to build a world based on collaboration and compassion.

We have been fighting against an establishment that is trying to shut us down. And like most independent media, we don’t have the deep pockets of investors to call on to bail us out.

Can you help by chipping in a few pounds each month?

The Canary Support us

Comments are closed