Ground Rules for Covering the Far Right as a Journalist
A lot of Anti-fascist researchers have seen the same thing happen over and over again. A mainstream newspaper, local or national, picks up on the far right organising or uses Anti-fascist’s work to write a piece about the far right. Often these stories are mainly going for the ‘shock value’ that is associated with fascists or white supremacists and will leave Anti-fascists angry at how poorly the far right have been covered.
I want to put a few clear rules in place for journalists who are new to covering the far right or for Anti-fascists who are starting to write about fascists properly for the first time.
Should I even write this? PR versus Journalism
Many Journalists see that a far right group has emerged in their patch and feel the need to immediately write a story about it to show locals what’s happening. The first thing to question is what’s the point. When a group announces itself the absolute best thing that can happen is the press writing an article about this announcement and giving the group the “free marketing” it wants.
“But people need to know about fascists in order to fight them!” – Yes they do, but the best way to do this is to share information that isn’t already publicly known about the group for example whether this group has a much more radical history than it lets on, or whether some of their members are abusive as is so often the case in the far right. A story like this is not only sharing the news that the group exists to be fought, but also actually gives readers new information that couldn’t be found on a quick google search.
An example of this may be with the newish Neo-Nazi group Patriotic Alternative, many shocked local papers have written about the group operating in their area, but very few noted that while the groups’ propaganda suggests they are pure hearted family men, the leader of the group Mark Collett himself demanded sex from underaged girls and was almost expelled from the BNP because of it.
Use accurate labels
Far right groups often intentionally names themselves to appear mainstream at a first glance; many neo-fascist groups focus a lot of attention on shifting the Overton Window, or making their ideas more mainstream and acceptable by appealing to centre right or conservative voters.
This is why it is important to stress the groups’ true ideology every time they are mentioned, if it is a neo-nazi group call it one! Without this consistent labelling groups can drift into the mainstream and we will hear the arguments too many of us have heard of “he’s not a nazi, he just cares about X”.
As well as this, it is important to get labels right. If a group is civic nationalist (believing that national identity, culture and legality make people a part of a nation) call them this, if they are ethnic nationalists (Believing that national identity and culture cannot be separated from ethnicity and therefore one ethnicity or a group of ethnicities are greater than others) call them that. Getting these wrong can provide the far right groups an easy correction and opportunity to discredit the entire article.
Don’t show actions in isolation – view everything in context
Many far right groups intentionally do harmless or even good actions to sanitise their image and give them an easy response to everyone who correctly calls them violent – they can turn around and say “violent? we go litter picking!”. This is why articles written about such events need to be viewed in context, presenting a group as merely litter pickers without pointing out that internally the group also supports Nazi terrorists.
View groups holistically and be cynical, far right groups have the expressed aim of appearing friendly and peaceful and covering these PR stunts as anything other than PR stunts is actively helping the group.
Never let narratives go unchallenged
When reporting on far right groups you often have to report on their narratives and rhetoric, this can be important for people to understand what a far right group is about, however sharing a group’s narrative without a direct challenge to it is PR not journalism. As well as doing your own research and using it to clear up any deliberately false and/or misleading claims of the group, reach out to Anti-fascist and Anti-racist groups for comment who can often give a more detailed response as to why the far right group is dangerous and wrong.
Debunk claims within the article itself
Another important point is that far right groups often use “Ben Shapiro style” rhetoric – short, snappy pieces of “facts and knowledge” or claims that are often massively over simplified solutions to problems or directly false, often these claims can actually take longer than 10 seconds to prove incorrect because they are playing off of half truths and sometimes conventional wisdom.
Although it is not always possible to completely “debunk” political claims in a short article, an attempt should be made (often this can be done by getting comment from an Anti-fascist or Anti-racist group) and at an absolute minimum the article should link readers to a resource which shows the claim to be false. Without doing this, the claim becomes one side of a debate instead of an obvious falsehood which is the foot in the door fascists look for.
Is a right to respond really necessary?
It is standard practice to give the subject of an article the “right to respond” and give the group an option to place comment within your article. This is not always a good idea, and when it comes to fascists, it creates a sense once again that there is some sort of debate to be had with the far right, as if marginalised groups in the UK having basic rights and equality is an issue that is up for discussion.
It can sometimes be a good idea to give a far right group a right to respond, as sometimes the group can make themselves look even worse with their response, however I would suggest only doing this if you are confident that the response will not just be an attempt to recruit off the back of the publicity the article may get the group.