The BBC scored an own goal with last night’s tweet about the far right

The BBC logo and angry tweets questioning its newsnight coverage
John Shafthauer

BBC Newsnight has come under fire for ‘legitimising’ the far right by tweeting the question:

Is Tommy Robinson a man raising concerns that others ignore, or a far-right figure exploiting the victims of sexual abuse for his own ends?

While some have praised the BBC‘s journalism, others have criticised the Newsnight segment looking at Stephen Yaxley-Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson).

Criticism

The segment featured a report on grooming, and also had a discussion on Yaxley-Lennon with Guardian columnist Nesrine Malik and newspaper publisher Danny Lockwood.

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But many viewers were unimpressed:

Newsnight‘s tweet asked if we should take Yaxley-Lennon at his word. A lot of people were annoyed by this. They thought we should have moved beyond questioning Yaxley-Lennon’s intentions:

Others were also very angry that he’d been given yet more airtime:

And they had a point. The question posed did suggest Yaxley-Lennon’s intentions were up for debate. Using the picture of him gagged also played into the image he presents of himself:

And the far right claiming to be silenced is nothing new:

Praise

The Newsnight discussion saw Malik arguing that Yaxley-Lennon is an ‘opportunist’:

Some who watched the programme had positive things to say about it:

But wait

The Newsnight piece has drawn another criticism, though:

Danny Lockwood was on the Newsnight segment talking about Yaxley-Lennon’s appeal. Lockwood has previously interviewed Yaxley-Lennon, and has drawn criticism for columns he’s written. As the Guardian wrote on 2 September:

Last month alone, Lockwood used his columns to attack a group that monitors anti-Muslim hate incidents – whom he called “soft-headed virtue signallers”; questioned the definition of Islamophobia; and mocked the “Zorro outfits” worn by some Muslim women.

During the Newsnight discussion, Lockwood claimed that:

I don’t think that he speaks specifically to the far right, because they talk to themselves anyway. I think he is tapping into a middle England that sees that they don’t get their views expressed, reflected or given any credence at all.

Lockwood talked about the perspective of unheard middle Englanders. As such, viewers might have been interested to know Lockwood’s opinions are sometimes accused of being in line with Yaxley-Lennon’s. It’s also noteworthy that this talk of voiceless people mirrors Yaxley-Lennon’s propaganda of silenced citizens:

Credible suspicions

The BBC should be more careful that its reporting on the far right doesn’t just amplify their message. It should also be more transparent about the views of commentators like Lockwood.

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John Shafthauer