Journalists are supposed to report news. They are not supposed to be the center of 'the news' themselves. It is a kernel of journalism that is continuously challenged in this age of instant news and multi media technology. Traditional barriers between the print media and electronic media have been bridged by new technology to the point where it is becoming difficult to decide where best to source one's information. Is it the newspaper, the radio, the television, satellite TV, the Internet or your mobile phone? A consequence of this remarkable revolution in communication technology is the continuing diversification of journalists’ work and their ability to reach you from all kinds of sources. You can see the same journalists on your TV screen, encounter them in your virtual chat room, listen to them on your Radio or read their written work in your newspapers. So a news reporter on your local Radio could metamorphose into an opinionated columnist in your local paper.
It is this kind of cross breeding that has contributed to one of the most controversial debates about freedom of expression in Britain in recent times. An ageing (even if his good looks tell a different story) popular chat show host, Robert Kilroy-Silk, is at the center of this debate. All because multi media technology and its complimentary demand of multi-task journalism allow him to jump from his not-very-serious banter morning show on to the pages of written word newspapers. His show is popular among bored housewives, the unemployed who have to fill in their time, and other dysfunctional people for whom time is no object. Who else will be watching a show that comes on after 9.00 am on a weekday except those who have no work to go to!
But that constituency is a big one. Consequently, mediocre talents like Kilroy-Silk, a former right wing Labour MP de-selected by Labour militants (God bless them) who found a new life as a chat show host, became stars overnight. Instead of thanking their stars for flashing at the right time and the right place, they delude themselves into thinking that they have become great public philosophers with a view on everything. He writes a regular column for the right-wing Express newspaper stable in London. In April last year his contribution to the unjust war effort against Iraq was a ranting monologue of loathsome views about “loathsome Arabs” in which he lumped all Arabs together as “suicide bombers”, “women oppressors”, “limb amputators” (sic) and a people who have contributed nothing apart from oil to human civilisation!
In the heated debates of the time the article was missed by those who would have protested. But its re-publication last week in The Sunday Express has led to the current controversy. Kilroy-Silk's open prejudice and racist attitudes and opinions of Arabs were too much for many liberal-minded persons in Britain, who called for his head on a platter. The BBC, considered a bastion of liberalism by conservative people in Britain (in Margaret Thatcher's days her Loony Minister and Chair of the Conservative party, Norman Thebit, used to call the BBC the ‘Bolshevik Broadcasting Corporation’), had no alternative but to suspend Kilroy-Silk's morning show pending investigation of his racist article.
Silk's supporters see the move as an infringement on Kilroy-Silk's freedom of expression, while his critics see it as logical and demand that suspension is not enough punishment – the man should never again have any show on the BBC, which is financed by public license fees. Others also expect that he would be prosecuted under the various raft of anti racism laws for inciting racial prejudice and promoting intolerance likely to lead to disturbance of public order.
Would there have been such uproar if Kilroy had written in an African Newspaper? There is so much racist, prejudiced, insulting, and ethno-centric material in our media, and so much religious and sectarian bias, that his ranting would not have been extraordinary.
Many of our media and public figures would not pass the simplest of anti-racism tests. And by no means is all the racism against black people enacted by white people. A lot of it is actually from the racist views of Africa by Africans, their prejudice against other Africans, and also African prejudice against non-Africans or non-Black Africans and others. Just read the pro-Mugabe Media in Africa to get a taste of what I am saying. Would many be that complacent if the situation was reversed? On the other side, would those who are defending Kilroy's right to say all he said about Arabs have maintained the same position if “Arabs” were substituted for "Jews” or “Israelis"?
It was this kind of group blaming, and these prejudiced power relations, that led to genocide in Rwanda. We must root it out of our society. But even 10 years after the genocide in Rwanda you will find many people who still deny that it was genocide or query the figure of those who died as if it is a numbers game. Still, many others are apologists for the genocide in the name of majoritarianism.
Racism, ethnicity, and religious and political intolerance are variations of the same virus. You cannot be one without being complicit in the others. We need to have statutory laws (and, more importantly, public awareness) to protect our society against those who, in exercising their right of “free speech”, promote hatred, prejudice and intolerance.
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