Recently there have been various street rallies in the UK with various themes, for instance one in Bristol against FGM, very large rallies organised by the Football Lad’s Alliance against terrorism. I’ve attended several of these and met a group of people including Anne Marie Waters, and many very diverse others, from all walks of life. One reason why I keep going is because all the people you meet are such lovely, brave, well informed, independent-minded people. Many or most of them have already lost friends over their views.
We have just found out that one of these people, ‘Hazel Brown’, is in fact, an undercover journalist from a company called Hardcash Productions, run by a David Henshaw, making a programme for ITV. She has been secretly recording us, using a hidden camera, including private conversations in the pub, for months. ITV is broadcasting a programme on Nov 9 ‘Exposure Undercover: Inside Britain’s Far Right’. I understand that the programme is to be chaired by Nick Lowles, of the group Hope not Hate.
So, ITV think that people who are holding peaceful rallies and exercising their right of political protest, who are concerned that the rule of law is not being applied in e.g. cases of FGM, who are concerned about the many women and girls in this country who suffer under sharia courts, who want the government to do more about terrorism, and so on, merit having an undercover journalist recording their conversations and being labelled ‘far right’.
I understand that the programme intends to focus on Anne Marie Waters, Jack Buckby, and on another person who has apparently been caught making some very off-colour remarks. (I must say that if that is the case, I have never heard anyone from the people I have met on such rallies making any hateful or racist comments. Otherwise I would not go. Of course any such remarks are unacceptable.) Of course what these ‘journalists’ are doing is waiting, waiting, waiting, until out of a vast crowd, some young person, drunk or excited, makes some off colour remark. It appears they are going to include this in the programme. Ignoring hours and hours of footage and conversations with people whom ‘Hazel’ knows full well are not racist, are not extremist, are not far right. What does this even mean any more? It’s such a betrayal. As one young man said, ‘I shared a plate of chips with her!’ I wonder if ITV will refund him for half a plate of chips.
There are many issues of great concern. This can only have a chilling effect on people’s freedom to express their political views in public. Our democracy essentially allows that we all have the freedom to express our views in public without hiding our identities. It is already the case that people are worried about expressing concerns about Islamic ideology and sharia law. Now they have to worry that an undercover journalist might be spying on them, not when they are having some clandestine meeting in the back room of some shady office, but when they are right out there in the street, when they should be free.
The ‘reporter’ followed people to the pub on more than one occasion, staying there for hours. This was a disparate group of people who just happened to meet up on such rallies. How is it acceptable, that citizens of a free country, having a drink in a bar, are being recorded by some sleazy journalist hoping to catch some juicy bits?
The National Union of Journalist’s code of conduct only permits undercover investigations where material cannot be found in any other way and where it is ‘overwhelmingly’ in the public interest. Likewise, Ofcom, which regulates television broadcasters, have rules governing privacy, restricting undercover investigations unless they are in the public interest, and rules about fairness. So was it necessary to record us secretly? Far from being a secretive group, demonstrations are live streamed on YouTube, and there are plenty of interviews with individuals already up on YouTube. For instance a very lovely young woman Jonaya Fenessa-English is making lots of recordings and there’s interviews and live streaming under the British Federation of Truth YouTube channel. We are not secretive. We do not cover our faces at rallies. We actually want to have our views heard. How is it acceptable to record us secretly? Why not speak to us? Why not ask us, ‘have you come across any racists? Have you come across anyone with hateful views? If so, what have you done about it?’ There’s nobody I’ve met who would tolerate any hint of racism or hatred against groups or individuals.
Of course if you followed many groups of people and recorded them secretly, over the course of time, you’d find one or two people spouting horrible things. But does that then justify having spied on them?
The whole premise of this, is that of course anyone with worries about Islamic ideology must be under suspicion of being far right, so it’s fair game to investigate. This is just terrible bias. And worse.
Now anyone who attended any of these political events is liable to the slur of being ‘far right’ as the title of the programme suggests. Far from being ‘far right’, very many of the people I met aren’t even ‘right’ – there are many former Labour party members who were there because they feel their political views have stayed the same – wishing for equal rights and equality before the law for all – while the world has gone mad around them. There are various groups who are currently expressing concerns – including for instance, Gays Against Sharia, who have to put up with being called ‘far right’. They just don’t want to be thrown off tall buildings. Hardly an extremist position.
But being labelled ‘far right’ has consequences. There will be an implication that anyone associated with this group is an extremist. Some people are in fear of losing their jobs. Worse, being labelled ‘far right’ may put individuals in actual danger. One activist from Bristol, ‘Annie the Greek’, who runs a group called ‘British and Immigrants Against Terrorism’, a slight woman, was beaten to a pulp recently at an anarchist book fair for being outed as a ‘fascist’. This is frightening stuff.
There is a great deal of undercover journalism some of which may be justified, for instance if criminals are being investigated. But there is a strong reason why it’s wrong to carry out this kind of undercover journalism on people who are attending a political demonstration. It is our right to demonstrate. The whole point of demonstrations is to allow freedom of expression, without fear. Thanks to ITV, that is now gone. This will have a chilling effect on freedom of expression. Anyone who views this programme will think twice about going to a demo.
And there’s more. I understand that Anne Marie Waters will be a focus of the programme. She is just launching a new party – For Britain. And Nick Lowles from Hope not Hate, I am told, is commentator. But Hope Not Hate have material on Anne Marie’s new party which is highly critical and clearly biased.
Broadcasters, according to the Ofcom Broadcasting Code, are meant to be impartial, accurate, and fair. How on earth can it be impartial to broadcast a programme focusing on the leader of a new political party, with commentary from a member of a group which has already clearly demonstrated that it is biased against that party and its leader? Could they not find someone neutral? How can this be in compliance with the Broadcasting Code? It looks like a manifest attempt to quash a new party in its infancy.
This is not democracy. This is like having the Stasi spy on us as we walk the streets of Britain and chat to our friends in the pub. Shame on you, ITV. You need to seriously consider if you are breaching the broadcasting code.
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