Advertising departments take note

23 April 2001 – There are still seven weeks to go before a probable general election (it is going to seem longer), but already it has become clear that the issue of refugees and asylum seekers is going to be front of stage. Following the well-publicised confusion over which candidates will sign the CRE pledge to avoid racist language in their campaign and which will not, the following advertisement has appeared in the Folkestone Herald:

The advertisement was placed by the Conservative Party in Folkestone and Hythe, whose candidate is former Home Secretary Michael Howard. Mr Howard, who has not signed the CRE pledge at the time of writing, has defended the advertisement in The Guardian of April 23, saying that the rise in asylum claims was “one of the most important issues” in his constituency.

This may be true, not least because of the racist headlines which have frequently appeared in the Folkestone Herald. But that is no excuse for such a blatant attempt to whip up racial hatred for political advantage. The use of the term ‘bogus’ – in bold type and underlined – flies in the face of the undertaking given on behalf of his party by William Hague.

But it is the role of the media in carrying such an advertisement which is most troubling. Increasing numbers of journalists have become sensitive to the use of language in this context, and editorial xenophobia seems to be subsiding. Now it seems that the advertising departments will have to take note. It is perfectly within their powers to refuse to accept such advertisements for publication, and they should do so now. Over the coming weeks it is probable that this, or similar incitements, will be flooding over their counters – especially in areas with a high immigrant population. Editors must tell their commercial managers that this is revenue they can well do without. If candidates cannot be persuaded to play by the rules agreed by their leaders, at least the media can ensure that they do not compound the felony.

Bill Norris
Associate Director

(Bulletin No 43)

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