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The Day I Was Told to Ignore The EDL Fascists

28/05/2013 14:02 BST | Updated 28/07/2013 10:12 BST

Denying extremist groups the oxygen of publicity through a blanket ban is wrong. It's well-meaning but it's wrong. The responsibility lies not with a Government stopping these idiots spouting their reactionary bile - that would just give the nutters some sort of credibility and the authorities would rightly be labelled paranoid anti-democrats.

Instead, the responsibility lies with media organisations. They are the ones, after all, who give jihadists and fascists the soap box in the first place.

The irony is that now Channel 4 and Newsnight have allowed Muslim extremists onto their shows, it would only be fair to give the English Defence League, possibly the most right-wing, violent and unpleasant organisation in the country, the same right. I'd be amazed if they do but in the interests of fairness they should.

Which is why it's interesting scouring the newspapers for EDL material and seeing how these skin-headed fascists are portrayed.

The Daily Mail (a paper that one imagines will never again use the headline 'Hurrah For The Blackshirts!') uses words like 'violence' and 'thugs', calls it a dangerous far-right organisation and shows members bloodied and occasionally raising their arms in fascistic salutes.

The Daily Telegraph warns that, so warped are their beliefs, that they want to burn down mosques. The Guardian and The Times express disgust that the EDL is piggy-backing on the Help For Heroes campaign, while The Sun, remarkably, tells a story of how Muslims invited EDL marchers in to their mosque for a cup of tea and cake and shook hands round the table after calmly debating. Piece of cake in our time.

The Daily Express meanwhile - and I would encourage people to look at the comments on the accompanying website below stories relating to the EDL to understand the impassioned, and disturbing, feelings of readers - reports that support for the EDL 'has grown', that its marches are full of 'cheers from the crowd' and supporters 'outnumber' opponents.

It is also the only publication to quote liberally and uncritically from EDL leader Tommy Robinson about how 'upset' the organisation are that the money raised and given to Help For Heroes is to be handed back.

I would never wish to criticise a publication's editorial policy but surely a group that espouses extreme violence, is fuelled by racist hatred and glories in a thuggishness akin to Hitler's Nazis should be dealt with in the same way as jihadists who want the destruction of the West. They're dangerous idiots, two sides of the same warped coin.

The BBC and Channel 4 should invite the EDL on to debate racism and then be done with them. At least it would cancel out the foolish decision to invite on Anjem Choudary, a Muslim cleric so incendiary that he's been banned by many countries.

Let these religious and fascist nutters exist but either criticise or ignore them. I once sat in a newspaper conference in which my pleas for us to turn on the EDL and expose them as mindless bigots were shouted down by others who insisted such a line 'might upset readers who support them'. Good, I said, ignoring them is as bad as supporting them.

I've changed my mind. Like a trouble-making bully, ignoring them is the most sensible and effective option. It's certainly preferable to reporting on them uncritically.