You might quote Socrates, but you can’t spell my name

If you’ve got nothing to hide, why hide behind an official spokesperson? If you believe in free speech, why not agree to a proper interview? The morning’s Media Guardian published an article I have been researching for the last few months. Headlined A Platform for Free Speech … or Hate, it examines the Telegraph’s attitude towards some of the more extremist views available on its readers blogs. My investigation has uncovered that the My Telegraph service is being used by members of the British National Party (BNP) to promote their nefarious views. I knew that I would attract a fair bit of heat from the article, as you can’t go around accusing a national newspaper of harbouring the views of the far right, albeit a vocal minority of them, and not expect it to bite back.

So here goes. One of the card-carrying neo-fascists I mentioned in the article quoted Socrates in his defence (although he couldn’t actually spell my name correctly) on his blog. Many others from the far right called me, and the newspaper I often work for, a lot of nasty names. All as to be expected. Many of them, moreover, also accused me (apparently without reading my article as there comments were published before it was printed) that I was against free speech. I think it goes without saying that I’m not against freedom of speech. I just want to question whether a reputable and recognised brand like the Telegraph (a newspaper I’ve long admired) wants to allow members of the far right to use it as a platform to propagate their extremist views. Of course, it’s not me who is against free speech, but a party that routinely uses violence to support its views; who deny the holocaust and whose leader has been tried twice for incitement to racial hatred (although he did eventually get off). The BNP is also a party that, according to its own constitution, is “committed to stemming and reversing the tide of non-white immigration.”

I asked Weyman Bennett, national secretary of Unite Against Fascism what he thought of the free speech defence and whether the Telegraph should allow active members of the BNP to use the Telegraph to promote their views. He told me that the British National Party remain far from a legitimate organisation and that he “would assume that the Telegraph would be at pains to condemn the BNP. Instead they are allowing a fascist party to whip up racism and that it needs to recognise that it is not a benign organisation, but threat to anybody who believes in democracy.”

The communities editor of the Telegraph, Shane Richmond, published a list of my questions on his blog on Friday without my consent. I took such an intrusion into our private correspondence in good humour, but I think it’s a bit rich of him to complain about freedom of speech when he refused both a face-to-face and telephone interview forcing me to send any questions I had via email and to conduct most of his comments over the internet and in public before even reading my article. So one that question again to Shane Richmond: if you’ve got nothing to hide, why hide behind your official spokesperson?