Hampstead & Highgate Express editor Geoff Martin has defended his decision to publish a comment from the British National Party on its front page after coming under attack from Camden Council.
Deputy Labour leader at the council and former executive member for equalities and community development Theo Blackwell wrote a letter of complaint for publication in the paper after a member of the far-right party, Peter [sic] Edwards, was quoted on the front page opposing an ethnic majority school’s decision to serve Halal food.
In his letter, Blackwell said: “BNP leader Nick Griffin must have a grin as wide as a Cheshire cat that the views of his party are given prominence in Camden by the Ham & High.
“The serious investigation undertaken by The Guardian into BNP entryism in North London before Christmas seems to have passed you by, as does the fact that another article in your paper noted the rise of anti-semitism in the area. As a borough, Camden has a strong track record on community cohesion and we hope you will join us and so many others in questioning the BNP’s relevance in this matter.
“Your editorial decision to give the BNP prominence was wrong and we strongly urge you to revisit your policy as a matter of urgency.”
Blackwell told Press Gazette: “There was no quote from Labour, Conservatives or Liberal Democrats; that would have showed balance. The BNP has no relevance in Camden as it is not represented here.”
Martin dedicated a general editorial to the issue of whether the BNP should be offered the chance to give their opinion in the media.
Martin replied to Blackwell: “I’m astonished that in this open democracy we so often boast about, that you believe we should, as a matter of policy, effectively whitewash a party out of existence.
“In this instance, the relevance is that the BNP as a party was publicly accused of making racially-motivated threats to a school, a serious matter and one which could not be swept under the carpet, as you suggest.
“Phil Edwards’s comment, if anything, was helpful in answering these allegations and committing the party to making any approaches through the proper channels.
“Had Mr Edwards used the ‘oxygen of publicity’ to make racist comments or inflame the situation, we would of course have taken a different view.”
Martin told Press Gazette: “I think it was idiotic for a member of one party to write to his local newspaper, saying that we, as a matter of newspaper policy, should censor the comments of another political party, however unsavoury that political party may be. That is what Blackwell suggested in his letter.”
See also “Why we refused councillor’s call for political censorship”, Hampstead & Highgate Express, 26 February 2007