The Leeds Student was wrong to print their interview with Nick Griffin – and here’s why…

Ever since it was founded over thirty years ago, the Leeds Student has been a campus institution. Whether you’ve written in it, found yourself featured in its pages, or been […]

Ever since it was founded over thirty years ago, the Leeds Student has been a campus institution. Whether you’ve written in it, found yourself featured in its pages, or been one of the thousands who pick it up every Friday, it’s likely the newspaper has played some kind of role during your time at Leeds. Last year I was one of the paper’s news editors and saw first-hand, week in and week out, the hard work that hundreds of volunteers put in whilst struggling for their degree – all for the sake of a by-line.

It is, for all its faults (and spelling mistakes), a very important part of student life and continues to inform, entertain and spark debate across campus each week. And although I’m now a part of The Tab, I still count myself as friends with many of the  newspaper’s editors. In fact, for that reason alone, I’ve bitten my tongue all week as the Leeds Student faced its biggest scandal of the year so far.

Just in case you haven’t been following , last Friday the Leeds Student published in full an interview with the BNP’s repulsive leader Nick Griffin. As you might expect, the conversation was suitably vile. Highlights included him stumbling to defend his party’s past links to the Ku Klux Klan as well as his well-documented history of Holocaust denial. In one extract Griffin – who was recently suspended from Twitter  for inciting a demo outside the home of a same-sex couple – asked the newspaper’s gay interviewer why he couldn’t tolerate the fact that ‘heterosexuals… find the sight of two men kissing creepy’.

Fortunately, the most common response in the comment section was one of outrage (I think my personal favourite was: “He finds gay people ‘creepy’? Surely there is a rule against politicians stealing arguments from 12 year olds?”) But whilst most students focussed their anger on Griffin, the National Union of Students had another target in mind – the newspaper itself. Later that day, the NUS published an open letter on their website demanding that the Leeds Student remove the interview immediately on the grounds that it gave a platform to a fascist.

This then prompted the editor, Lucy Snow, to pen this nicely-written defence of her decision to publish. As Lucy was right to point out – who are the NUS to say what the elected editor of a student society decides to put in her newspaper? Thousands of Leeds students directly voted for Lucy to edit the newspaper, whilst you can probably count on one hand those at Leeds who got to directly vote for anyone at NUS. She was absolutely right to stand her ground against an increasingly-irrelevant institution that most students here today don’t even understand, care for, or engage with. Sadly though, she was absolutely wrong to have published the interview.

It’s certainly true that the interview showed Griffin up for what he is – a racist,  homophobic buffoon. It’s equally true that the interviewer did well to remain both calm and objective as Griffin began to sprout his offensive and disgusting views. But what business did the newspaper have in pitching for the interview in the first place?

The BNP has collapsed in the polls since their heyday in 2009, and Griffin’s authority has waned. Last year the party faced its second leadership challenge in less than 12 months, whilst many of its supporters have defected to the likes of the English Defence League or English Democrat Party. Don’t be fooled by Leeds Student’s line that they were simply giving Griffin a chance to justify his views. This was a sensationalist, inflammatory interview designed to get as big a reaction as possible from an audience that the newspaper knew would be naturally hostile. There’s a word for that: trolling.

Although the BNP enjoyed European election success in Yorkshire and Humberside three years ago, its victory was hardly fuelled by the student vote. And today, there must be a grand total of two University of Leeds students who share Griffin’s opinions. So how the Leeds Student team can keep a straight face when they say they were trying to ‘challenge’ views is beyond me. All the interview has done is given Griffin’s hateful, extremist views a fresh airing – along with the sort of publicity and controversy he craves. The same sort of controversy he stoked when he appeared on Question Time in 2009 – a shambolic performance that nevertheless boosted his support, as it seemed the political and media establishment were finally taking the BNP seriously.

Does such an unfortunate outcome mean journalists should ignore the views of extremists? Of course not. But they certainly shouldn’t give them priority over those in the mainstream. Excuse me if I’ve missed any full page interviews with Conservative, Labour or Liberal Democrat politicians in the Leeds Student recently. Then again, I bet none of you have seen them either.

The Leeds Student is a smart newspaper, with a great team of writers, but I believe they got it wrong this time. That’s fine: we all make mistakes as student journalists, and I myself have made my share. I just hope they don’t repeat this one any time soon.