Neo-fascism might be entertaining, but democracy matters more
From left: Dutch Green leader Jesse Klaver, Prime Minister Mark Rutte, and Geert Wilders
Blanket coverage of Geert Wilders as an avatar for the Dutch elections tomorrow are part of a worrying media trend, whereby so-called populists are covered relentlessly while the same media acts amazed at the populists’ success.
When people start blaming the media for events they don’t like, it’s a sign they’re not serious about politics. But who would deny 20 years of anti-Europe news coverage in the British press made the public more receptive to arguments for Brexit?
To identify certain media practices as a contributing factor to political events is very different to saying the idiot public has been brainwashed by sinister forces.
No-one can be happy about the ease with which Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and Nigel Farage could spread falsehoods and evade tough questions during the EU referendum in the name of a ‘balance’ which favoured their lies.
The near religious devotion by the US media last year to Donald Trump’s every Tweet and utterance can’t have hurt his chances come election day, and reinforced his image as an exciting alternative to the status quo. (They are still making this mistake.)
A recent Buzzfeed report exposed the growing obsession with Marine Le Pen in some British press outlets, with the increasingly neo-fascist Daily Express averaging about two stories a day. (The Front National leader also received an easy ride from the BBC’s Andrew Marr in a recent televised interview.)
So to the Netherlands, where, as it happens, Wilders has only 12 seats in the Dutch House of Representatives after losing 15 in 2012, and where he’s back down in the polls after a bounce in December.
As Adam Taylor writes in the Washington Post, ‘the big story of the 2017 election may well be the diversity of the political scene. A total of 28 parties will be on the ballot this year, a record for the Netherlands’.
Yet how often have you seen the bespectacled features of centre-right Prime Minister Mark Rutte on your Twitter feed or in the news? It’s all Wilders, all the time, as everyone chases after the hot new thing.
When the hot new thing is neo-fascism, the blurring of politics and entertainment becomes positively sinister. But instead of moderating this creep-chase, hacks ask democrats like Rutte why he doesn’t beat up on Muslims more to win over Wilders’s voters. After all, beating up on Muslims is popular. Who’s to say if it’s wrong? Don’t you want to win?
Meanwhile, right-wing ‘populism’ is talked up as the coming thing, despite being a minority everywhere in Europe except for Hungary, where its majority actually declined in the last election (2014). When the most famous political leaders from each country are the least democratic, something is going wrong in our political culture.
It really won’t do to hand webspace and airtime to big-mouth nationalists unchecked, while at the same time running slack-jawed editorials and chin-pulling blab sessions about the rise of said same bigmouths. (Oh, and then striking a defiant pose when they not-at-all-surprisingly turn on the free press.)
Demagogues might make good clickbait, but journalists and their readers can’t blame the profit motive for their own behaviour. It’s high time what freedom we do have was used with more care and discernment, before the space to do so shrinks around us.
Adam Barnett is staff writer for Left Foot Forward. Follow him on Twitter @AdamBarnett13Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.