Monday, October 10, 2011

Newsnight is let off the hook for Starkey’s racist comments

David Starkey’s comments on Newsnight regarding the London riots were undoubtedly racist and inflammatory. Referring to Enoch Powell’s “Rivers of Blood” speech, explaining that “the problem is that the whites have become black,” and referring to a gang culture based on “Jamaican patois” is an extremely clear indication of Starkey’s general outlook on the world.

Although some may have wanted some form of regulatory body to investigate him personally, we live in a country in which free speech is allowed to a large extent, so Starkey will escape any official sanction, for now. Newsnight, however, is subject to institutional scrutiny, specifically by the media regulator Ofcom, which received more than 100 complaints from the public, accompanied by open criticism of Starkey from Labour leader Ed Miliband. Ofcom has recently ruled, however, that it will take no action against BBC2’s Newsnight, explaining that Newsnight presenter, Emily Maitlis had sufficiently challenged Starkey’s assertions.

Ofcom’s job is not to criticise Starkey’s behaviour, however, and as such no judgment was made about his conduct. Even if the appropriateness of Starkey’s comments remain questionable, Newsnight’s presenter has been found to have acted entirely appropriately. Although it seems this brings an end to the Starkey Newsnight debacle, not everyone is satisfied with this decision. Reflecting a number of disillusioned voices, Owen Jones, who appeared on the show with Starkey, reflected that Ofcom's decision meant that it had "proved itself to be a toothless body by failing to tackle the out-and-out racism of a discredited historian". Either way, on this occasion Newsnight has been found not guilty.

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