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17 April 1997

Banning the BNP attacks us all

An election ban on the British Nationalist Party would take all our rights away, argues James Heartfield

The television election broadcast of the British National Party scheduled for April 25 has provoked calls for a ban. By standing 55 candidates the BNP satisfied the rules covering election broadcasts - but now the broadcasters look set to pull the plug on the BNP under pressure from anti-Nazi campaigners.

But the cause of anti-racism will not be served by banning the BNP broadcast. As much as one might be opposed to the sentiments expressed by the BNP, censoring them sets a dangerous precedent for other people's free speech.

For the first time, the media would be refusing to broadcast on the grounds of what they thought was and was not acceptable. If that precedent is set whose broadcast would be banned next? Would Arthur Scargill's Socialist Labour Party be allowed a broadcast, for example? Who would set the standard of what is 'too extreme' and what is not?

Those demanding the ban seem to think that you can fight racism by appealing to the powers-that-be to suppress an offensive viewpoint. But covering things up never helped a just cause. Nobody who is on the right side need fear freedom of speech. Only bigots and vested interests need to hide behind bans and censorship.

Trust the people

The desire to ban the BNP broadcast springs from an unhealthy distrust of the voters. It is not the British National Party that is damaged by a ban. They will glory in the notoriety. The people who are losing their rights are the electorate. They have a right to hear all the political arguments from all the candidates. What else is an election but a choice of which party should form the government. The voters have a right to hear every view.

The anxiety that people will be suckered by the cunning propaganda of the BNP would be laughable if it were not so insulting to our intelligence. Voters have never given mass support to the BNP. The one council election seat the BNP won on the Isle of Dogs - a protest vote against Labour - was overturned at the earliest opportunity.

The obvious conclusion of a broadcast ban on the BNP would be to ban them from the election altogether, and then to destroy their pamphlets and books. But then who needs Nazis if you are going to start banning people from elections and burning books?

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