By Aisha Sembhi
The recent revival of the Black Lives Matter movement has made unprecedented moves into the social mainstream. Otherwise neglected racism aimed towards Black people has been pushed to the forefront of social media, mainly thanks to the work of dedicated grassroots activists worldwide. The mainstream news, however, seems to be lagging. While protests and counter-protests alike have been widely reported on during the last month, news outlets seem to hesitate when asked to make the fundamental statement the UK needs to hear: Black Lives Matter.
We have officially reached the toughest barrier in achieving social justice – implementing actual change. News outlets have been fundamental in controlling the national zeitgeist in turbulent and partisan times, and the BLM movement is no different. Outlets aligned with both the left and right wings of the political spectrum have churned out opinion pieces on the movement, and have undoubtedly consolidated their readers’ existing views on the situation.
The BBC, however, has a different role to play. As a state-funded news source, the BBC has an underlying responsibility to remain impartial on certain political issues. Whilst the BBC has certainly been active in reporting BLM-related events, it has fallen short of explicitly supporting perhaps the largest and most momentous anti-racist movement this generation has seen. The BBC’s recent announcement personifies the back-peddling that has occurred as a result of BLM’s unexpected social success; broadcasters and guests will be discouraged from wearing BLM pin badges on air, as a consequence of the movement being ‘highjacked’ and moulded into a political campaign.
On a surface level, this may seem like a sensible response. An impartial news outlet should not allow political symbols to broadcast, and so discouraging solidarity with specific groups can be perceived to be an appropriate response. However, a more nuanced approach to the situation reveals two fundamental issues to unpick. First, the idea that the BBC is entirely dedicated to its neutrality. Second, the notion that BLM is a political movement.
The first issue addresses the BBC’s approach to politics on air. If the BBC is truly the impartial news source we believe it to be, no political symbols of any sort should be on air. Whilst this is generally the case, the BBC does make some exceptions that are generally accepted and go without question. For example, individuals are allowed to wear the Remembrance Poppy if they wish to.
‘But the Poppy isn’t political!’ some proclaim. And to an extent, this is true. However, we cannot ignore the fact that the Poppy has been co-opted by radical groups and adopted as a symbol of British nationalism over time. Of course, this sentiment does not apply to every single individual who wears a poppy, yet the politics attached to the symbol remain a discomfort to several groups in the UK. Surely, if the BBC were truly neutral, they would acknowledge this symbol that has been ‘hijacked’ and discourage its broadcasting too?
Furthermore, it would be inaccurate to describe BLM as a wholly political campaign. Whilst BLM UK is calling for legislative change, most controversially defunding the police, the statement ‘Black Lives Matter’ should not be treated as a political rallying call. It is not political to acknowledge and seek to remedy the systemic racism Black Britons face. BLM is a movement that transcends politics. Neutrality is no longer an option.
The BLM badge has a specific purpose. It shows solidarity with a global movement and demonstrates an awareness of the mistreatment Black people have faced for centuries in the West, and a willingness to prevent this.
Ultimately, a BLM badge being worn on air is a quick visual reminder that racism should have no place in the UK, something which is indisputable. The BBC’s hesitance to reinforce this notion is worrying, and suggests it is perhaps more concerned with appeasing opponents of BLM and entrenching their viewership, more so than they are concerned with utilising their power to protest the lives of Black Britons. Denouncing racism is not a controversy and should not be treated as such.
Photograph: Markus Winkler via Pixabay