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How Europe's media treat the far right

Nick Griffin (file image)
The BBC has defended allowing Nick Griffin to appear on Question Time

A decision by the BBC to allow the leader of the anti-immigrant British National Party to take part in a TV debate has triggered protest and controversy in the UK.

Here, BBC correspondents from across Europe reveal how media coverage of far-right parties is handled in different parts of the continent.

EMMA JANE KIRBY - PARIS

A couple of weeks ago, the French National Front (FN) politician Marine Le Pen appeared on a national TV debate Mots Croises (Crosswords) and caused a public outcry. Not because she was an extreme right politician being given air time on a mainstream political show, but because she read extracts from culture minister Frederic Mitterrand's pseudo-autobiography in which he made allusions to a former involvement in the Thai sex trade.

Jean-Marie Le Pen (file image)
Jean-Marie Le Pen's performance on French TV boosted his popularity

She demanded the resignation of the minister - and was taken so seriously that Mr Mitterrand was forced to appear on the eight o'clock news to defend his position. Politicians from all sides joined the debate, which was entirely prompted by the FN, as to whether he was fit to be in office.

People here are used to turning on their TVs and radios and seeing and hearing the views of the FN.

Part of the role of the CSA (the authority which guarantees the liberty of audiovisual communication) is to "guarantee the pluralism of expression of opinion and thought" so even outside election periods, the FN is assured air time.

And television has served the party well. In 1984, the leader of the National Front Jean-Marie Le Pen (father of Marine) saw support for his party double overnight after being questioned on the leading political programme L'Heure de Verite (the Hour of Truth) - not dissimilar to the BBC's Question Time.

Experts say his credible performance helped to legitimise his views and Mr Le Pen himself credited the programme with boosting his popularity, calling it "the hour that changed everything".

In the election of that year, the French National Front went on to score 2.2 million votes and Mr Le Pen was invited to participate in more and more broadcasts.

Although the extreme left group Action Directe set off bombs across Paris in protest at the publicity being given to the far right, Mr Le Pen continued to rise in the opinion polls.

In the 2002 elections, he knocked out Socialist candidate Lionel Jospin in a shock result in the first round, scoring 16.8% of the votes - just 3% below the then President, Jacques Chirac.

ADAM EASTON - WARSAW

The nearest equivalent to the BNP in Poland is probably the League of Polish Families - a nationalist, anti-EU and anti-gay rights party based on traditional Roman Catholic values.

The party gets much less media coverage these days because it failed to win enough votes to be represented in the Polish parliament at the last general elections in 2007.

But it was a junior member of the coalition government from 2005 up to that point. Its then leader, Roman Giertych, was the country's education minister and both his appointment and the party's presence in the government were controversial here and sparked street demonstrations.

Some critics here say the League of Polish Families has ties to far-right movements with anti-Semitic views. Mr Giertych or any of the party's leaders have never publicly expressed such views to my knowledge.

Newspapers here have, however, printed photographs of members of the party's former youth movement, All Polish Youth, giving Heil Hitler-type salutes. When they do it is usually front-page news.

Far-right parties existed in Poland before World War Two. Given this history and the fact that Hitler made Poles unwilling witnesses to the Holocaust by building many of the death camps on Polish soil, the far right remains controversial, but also a phenomenally well discussed topic here.

TRISTANA MOORE - BERLIN

The far-right NPD is a legal political party, but given Germany's Nazi past and the fact that the party has no seats in the federal parliament, (or Bundestag), the NPD has rarely been given much airtime on the main public TV channels.

German journalists would shy away from giving any publicity to far-right parties, and it would be virtually unheard-of for a far-right leader to appear on a public TV talk show.

The media coverage of the NPD tends to be negative. So a funding scandal for the NPD was widely reported and stories are often published about NPD demonstrations which end in violence, or far-right attacks on immigrants.

NPD rally in Hanover 12.9.09
A legal attempt to ban Germany's NPD failed

For example in August, the NPD in the eastern state of Thuringia threatened Zeca Schall, an Angolan-born member of Chancellor Merkel's CDU party who has German citizenship. He was abusively "told to go back home".

Mr Schall ended up under police protection and there was a public outcry. The story was reported by many German papers and TV channels, but while there were interviews with Mr Schall, the main media outlets avoided any interviews with the NPD.

The far-right NPD party is represented in regional parliaments, like in the eastern state of Saxony, and some television channels have broadcast interviews with regional NPD leader Holger Apfel. But these interviews are usually brief and they are part of a short news item.

Germany has tough anti-Nazi laws and the country's far-right political parties remain highly controversial.

The Zeca Schall case provoked another heated debate over whether the NPD should be banned.

The federal government tried to ban the NPD in 2003, but the attempt failed when judges at Germany's highest court threw out the case.

Recently, the Interior Minister of Bavaria Joachim Herrmann announced he would launch a bid to ban the NPD next year, arguing that the Schall case exposed the racist nature of the party.

DUNCAN KENNEDY - ROME

In Italy, the term "extreme right" has often been a difficult concept to pin down.

In its purest form, the country gave the world Benito Mussolini and his National Fascist Party, a text-book definition of fervent right-wing nationalism.

But even Mussolini started his political life as a Marxist Socialist and maintained elements of social progression in his policies.

Then in the 1940s rose the Italian Social Movement (MSI), which became the nostalgic keeper of the fascist torch.

The MSI, in turn, morphed into the National Alliance, which this year voted itself out of existence in order to join the newly formed centre-right grouping of the PDL, or People of Freedom Party, headed by Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

Opponents accuse the Lega Nord of being a xenophobic, regionalist and populist group, coalescing around anti-immigration policies

It all means that, currently, the most extreme expression of right-wing opinion in Italy is centred on the Lega Nord, or Northern League.

But the league doesn't sit on the margins of political life in the same way that the British National Party does.

It gained more than 8% of the vote in last year's general election, earning it 60 deputies in Italy's lower house of parliament and 26 senators in the upper house.

The league is now a key coalition partner in Mr Berlusconi's government and has four ministers, whose portfolios include the interior ministry and agriculture.

The matter of whether the league has a right to appear on TV is simply not an issue.

The heads of the various RAI state TV networks do not appear before cameras having to justify their decision to put the league's politicians, or supporters, on news bulletins or discussion programmes.

The league earned its democratic stripes many years ago and so is an integral part of public life, openly accepted on all media platforms.

Its firebrand leader, Umberto Bossi, is head of the government's reforms and federalism department.

Opponents accuse the league of being a xenophobic, regionalist and populist group, coalescing around anti-immigration policies.

But it would be wrong to depict the league as a single-issue party.

It embraces a range of right/left views on other policies, from its deeply conservative stance on immigration, to its more liberal approach to wages and pensions.

The league also has non-white members and holds political sway in many immigrant communities.

But although it is Italy's third largest party, it remains small, unable to spread its appeal widely beyond its northern base.

And despite its best efforts, in the public's mind it is mostly associated with matters of immigration, which open it up to equal measures of scorn and admiration.

NICK THORPE - BUDAPEST

The far-right Jobbik Party in Hungary won 14.8% in the June elections to the European Parliament.

That was the breakthrough the party was looking for, and its members are trying to build on their support ahead of next year's parliamentary elections.

Most opinion polls suggest they have 10-12% support, and analysts predict they will become the third force in parliament after Fidesz (centre right) and the Socialists (centre left).

The mainstream media were already dealing with them long before the June 2009 result. The Jobbik leader Gabor Vona regularly appeared on the flagship Napkelte (Sunrise) programme of MTV (Hungarian public service television), and the programme's producer was criticised for giving him the "oxygen of publicity".

In his most celebrated appearance on the programme, on 10 August, reporter Janos Bethlen repeatedly asked Vona whether or not he would advise his supporters to take part in a commemoration of Rudolf Hess (Hitler's deputy), organised by another far-right group.

Much of the media coverage of Jobbik so far is less about the party itself and its policies, more about who is to blame for its rise.

Vona refused to answer, and suggested that Bethlen go to Israel if he wanted to talk about the Holocaust.

Janos Bethlen almost lost his cool and pointed angrily at Vona, saying: "I found that remark insulting."

Jobbik leaders are often interviewed by other media as well, especially since their result in June. Events surrounding the banning of the Hungarian Guard, a paramilitary formation set up by Jobbik two years ago, are also covered in detail. By openly speaking about what they call "gypsy crime" many commentators fear that Jobbik is stirring up ethnic conflict.

Much of the media coverage of Jobbik so far is less about the party itself and its policies, more about who is to blame for its rise. The Socialists blame the main conservative opposition party, Fidesz. Fidesz say the Socialists are responsible.



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SEE ALSO
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Italy angered by 'fascist' label
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