The European Broadcasting Union, organisers of yearly journalism conference News Xchange, faced heavy criticism this week for giving a platform to the highly divisive figure, Stephen K. Bannon- Voice of London’s Memuna Konteh, reports from the conference.
Bannon is the ex-chief campaign adviser for President Donald Trump who, since leaving that job has made it his mission to aid national populist movements in Europe; applying the same principles used to help win Trump the White House two years ago. He is also the former editor of syndicated news outlet Breitbart News, whom under Bannon’s editorial eye, published headlines such as ” Gay rights have made us dumber, it’s time to get back in the closet”.
Many delegates and speakers pulled out of this year’s conference in protest of Bannon and his political views. Amongst those, head of Scottish government, Nicola Sturgeon who was supposed to speak at the opening of the conference which was held in Edinburgh.
Most of those that stayed did so in hopes that BBC Scotland’s Sarah Smith would give Bannon a real grilling so that we might finally have some insight as to the root of his hard anti-immigration stance and his relationships with a growing number of European populist politicians.
— News Xchange (@NewsXchange) 14 November 2018
#NX18: BBC’s Sarah Smith asks Steve Bannon “Do you not understand that when you talk about migrants taking people’s jobs etc there are social consequences to this inflammatory language?“. #NewsXchange pic.twitter.com/QaVgDmlrzv
— Busi Lethole 🌻 (@BusiLethole) 14 November 2018
A live version of BBC’s Question Time took place on Thursday morning, prior to Bannon’s interview during which presenter, Amol Rajan asked delegates in the crowd to raise their hands if they thought Bannon should not be at the conference and surprisingly few hands went up. News Exchange co-ordinator Amy Selwyn defended the EBU’s decision to host Bannon, by noting the dangers of liberal media undermining such polarising figures, as was the initial media reaction to Trump.
Upon Bannon’s arrival, the atmosphere in the room was tense. You could tell he had very few fans in the crowd, yet everyone was eager to hear what he had to say- presumably so they could return to their respective media agencies with a big juicy Bannon scoop.
This speaks to the the recent tendency of mainstream media to platform controversial and sometimes down-right offensive political figures as they’re great sources for shocking, sensationalist headlines (See: that Burka comment Boris Johnson made in the Telegraph).
In short, villains sell.
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During his interview Bannon behaved as expected, evasive of the difficult questions and unwavering from the well-prepped line that his message was the power of economic nationalism and that it had nothing to do with racism or fascism and said: “What populism is, is people trying to make sure that their citizenship has full value.”
— milica pesic (@milicapesic) 14 November 2018
Bannon refuses to answer question by BBC’s Sarah Smith: ‘Does Donald Trump tell lies?’ – ‘we’re adults here I understand you hate Donald Trump’ Bannon says, asking why media doesn’t fact check Obama, Bill Clinton, Corbyn #NX18
— HANNAH STORM (@HANNAHSTORM6) 14 November 2018
When questioned on his affiliation with Italy’s deputy prime minister Matteo Salvini, who is equally anti-immigration and was recently scrutinised for his use of the phrase “ethnic replacement” (on the influx of African migrants and refugees to the country), Bannon said: “Salvini is a hero to the people and a hero in his country”. He also spoke out in support of Hungary’s right-wing leader Viktor Orban.
“I am 100% comfortable working with Salvini and Orban” Steve Bannon #NX18
— Olivia Sheed (@OliviaSheed) 14 November 2018
Steve Bannon’s performance further cemented my belief that platforming extremists only serves their interests. He recieved few real challenges (the best from a fellow student), and he was able to weasel his way out of anything he couldn’t convert to his agenda. #NX18
— Nicholas Bell (@NicholasJWBell) 14 November 2018
That’s but one of many inflammatory statements he made during the hour-long session. What struck me the most, was that Bannon took the stage not shortly after survivors of the Parkland Florida school shooting had accepted an award for the exceptional journalism and activism they took part in after the tragic incident.
Yet he felt it was an appropriate response, when faced with an audience question “Why is separating an immigrant child from their parent more important than separating a man from his gun [in today’s America where school shootings occur at almost daily]?”, to say: “I am a strong supporter of the second amendment… I don’t think this is a gun issue, it’s a mental health issue”.
300 shootings in one year. “I don’t think it’s a gun issue” Steve Bannon. #NX18
— Simen Pedersen (@simenpe) 14 November 2018
That response was almost disrespectful in the face of the brave Parkland students, who have spent much of their time since the shooting campaigning for gun reform in the US.
Bannon was clearly the main event of the conference and although what he said was nothing new, he dominated the conversation amongst delegates, drawing attention away from all the positive media news that was being discussed over the two days.
Has Steven Bannon been defeated by well researched questions yet? No?
Try same thing again next week? Great. #NX18
— Kevin Donnellan (@Kevind04) 14 November 2018
Bannon says “The future of politics is populist” and he may well be right, but what role does the media have to play in this, and is it right that we continue to give platforms to people with extreme and potentially dangerous opinions?
Let us know what you think in this Voice of London poll.
Words by Memuna Konteh | Subbing by Maria Campuzano