Hate crimes have doubled in just five years. Why did our national broadcaster uncritically tweet the vile views of a Question Time audience member?
This is how racism and rightwing extremism are normalised. Thursday night’s Question Time featured a lengthy racist rant by an audience member: “Close the borders, completely close the borders,” she frothed with hateful rage, adding in lies about foreigners being showered with never-ending freebies while destroying the education system and the NHS. It took the commentator Ash Sarkar to challenge her unabashed bigotry with truth, pointing to research that migrants pay in more to the state than they get back. In a cheeky recycling of a quote popularised by the rightwing US pundit Ben Shapiro, Sarkar silenced the bigot: “Facts don’t care about your feelings.”
Yet Question Time then saw fit to clip the 82 seconds of hate, accompanied by a succinct summary of the audience member’s rant. Lies and hatred, uncorrected and unchallenged, rippled across social media from the account of the BBC’s self-described “flagship political debate programme”. At the time of writing, the video had been viewed more than 2 million times. By sharing the video, the BBC seemed to imply that this wasn’t racism – it was simply someone’s opinion, for us to agree or disagree with, in much the same way that we might debate the top rate of tax, or whether the railways should be renationalised. Who’s to say who is right and who is wrong? This was just another valid perspective to roam free in the marketplace of ideas – or such was the implication.
Much responsibility lies with a press that systematically incites bigotry against migrants, refugees, Muslims, benefit claimants and trans people: indeed, mainstream newspapers print bile that is not strikingly dissimilar from the Question Time rant. This includes “respectable” broadsheets such as the Times, which was belatedly forced to correct misleading coverage claiming a Christian child was “forced into Muslim foster care”. By the time the corrections were made, the damage had been done.