Leeds Student and Nick Griffin: why student newspapers shouldn't print interviews with fascists

Author: 
Workers' Liberty Students

The Leeds Student newspaper has published an interview with British National Party leader Nick Griffin, sparking major controversy.

Workers' Liberty Students' position is that we are against the interview being published. We do not think the fundamental issue here is one of freedom of speech.

We would disagree with the way some of those opposed to the interview have put the case, for instance the idea it should not have been published because it is "offensive", per se. Offensiveness is necessarily subjective: and arguing seriously that things which offend people should not be printed is incompatible with freedom of speech (of course some on the left are not very bothered about free speech; others may not have thought it through). There can be a blurred line between giving offence and downright harassment; but in general we do not believe in the right not to be offended.

The reason we support "no platform" for fascists (possibly not the best term - what we mean is preventing fascists from organising on our campuses, physically if necessary) is not because of the extreme offensiveness of their views, as such. It is because of the threat their physical presence and organising poses to oppressed groups, to democratic rights and to the very existence of the student and labour movements. That is why we do not agree with "no platform for sexists", "no platform for racists", etc, etc. In general reactionary views must be challenged in debate; fascism is a different matter. (For more on this, see "No platform" and free speech.)

If there was a major debate among, say, Leeds students about an issue on campus or beyond, and many held reactionary positions, there would be a case for a student newspaper to give space to the debate, even if many of us found the views expressed on the other side offensive. Nothing like that is involved here.

The issue does not seem to us to be primarily one of "no platform" in the sense that the term is generally used, but a more general political concern, namely that newspapers which are part of our movement should not print interviews with fascist ideologues. We are against public debates with fascists, but you could imagine a very different situation to the existing one where it would be arguably the right thing to do. Interviews serve no conceivable positive purpose, and merely give the BNP a platform to promote themselves. Although the Leeds Student interviewers do challenge Griffin, it is oh-so-mild in comparison to the reality of his politics, which remain largely hidden, while he is allowed get away with ludicrous claims like the BNP being a working-class party. Of course adequately strong challenges would have posed the question of why the interview was taking place at all.

We note that Leeds Student does not have much of a history of interviewing politicians. We can't help but feel the paper's real purpose here was self-promoting sensationalism (perhaps ill thought through), which is now being draped in insincere stuff about freedom of speech, debate and informing the student body.

Part of what is at issue is the student movement's lack of political seriousness. No one would propose interviewing the BNP in a trade union or labour movement newspaper. Sadly many student journalists seem to regard themselves as professional controversialists with no allegiance to the student movement as a movement or to any political values. In fact such a "detached" stance merely serves the cause of reaction.

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