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Do We Get the Hate-Filled News We Deserve?

23/04/2015 12:56 BST | Updated 21/06/2015 10:59 BST

The British newspaper 'The Sun' featured an article last Friday by Katie Hopkins that featured these lines:

'Make no mistake, these migrants are like cockroaches. They might look a bit "Bob Geldof's Ethiopia circa 1984", but they are built to survive a nuclear bomb. They are survivors.'

Also:

'It's time to get Australian. Bring on the gunships, force migrants back to their shores and burn the boats.'

Burn the boats sounds like an incitement to mass murder to me - assuming they have not reached the shore before the boats are burned - and describing desperate refugees as cockroaches sound like an incitement to racial hatred. It also invokes the old Nazi Germany language of the untermensch - the subhumans that civilised people should not fraternise with.

Consider how similar this 1942 pamphlet, 'The Subhuman', edited by the Reichsführer-SS, Heinrich Himmler sounds when compared to Katie Hopkins:

"Although it has features similar to a human, the subhuman is lower on the spiritual and psychological scale than any animal. Inside of this creature lies wild and unrestrained passions: an incessant need to destroy, filled with the most primitive desires, chaos and coldhearted villainy. A subhuman and nothing more!"

Himmler was second only to Hitler as orchestrator of the Holocaust and Katie Hopkins also has Holocaust form. Commenting on Ed Miliband's wife Justine, Hopkins recently tweeted:

'Pollsters say Justine is the least popular of party wives. He might stick her head in the oven and turn on the gas.'

There are many anonymous trolls spouting bile, but Hopkins writes as a high-profile columnist in the national press. As a commentator on British politics and society she would have known that Miliband's parents were Holocaust refugees. Or maybe that was the point of the 'joke'?

How did the British media ever get here? A national newspaper printing views that are openly racist with their mockery of the 1980s famine relief, inciting hatred, and suggesting that the way to fix the refugee problem is to burn their boats?

Katie Hopkins revels in her rent-a-gob status. Her earlier pronouncements about children and class seem tame compared to her jokes about the Holocaust and refugees. Like a drug addict increasing the dose to get the same hit, Hopkins has to become more and more offensive to generate a reaction from the public.

Why does she have to be so offensive? There are other commentators who are far from being seen as bleeding-heart liberals - those who hate the idea of refugees 'flooding' into Europe - and yet they don't charge around making pronouncements in the style of Kenny Everett's General.

Even Nigel Farage of UKIP sounds restrained as he warns of the 'waves of millions of Africans' who may invade Europe when compared to Katie Hopkins. Without Hopkins the press might have been pointing out how Farage had alluded to the 1968 'rivers of blood' warned of by Enoch Powell.

In many ways we - the news-consuming public - are really to blame for the rise of the rent-a-gob. News today has to 'perform'. A news site needs to attract an audience. Our immature online media model means that news sources need to either put up paywalls and charge a subscription, or be free and subsidised by getting a large audience.

Katie Hopkins may spout endless offensive bile, but people click on the stories she writes and the stories commenting on how offensive she is. The journals that publish her columns get traffic. People share the offensive stories on their social networks. The journals get an audience and the advertisers are happy. Unfortunately, this is how news works today. What we used to call news has become entertainment and the successful are those who get the most clicks, however that is achieved and whoever is offended.

So who is really to blame? Journals like The Sun, Katie Hopkins herself or the millions of readers who click on her rants and then share them with friends, adding a comment to say how outraged they are?

The real news story of the tragedy off the coast of Libya on Saturday - a day after Hopkins had been suggesting we burn migrant boats - is that hundreds of migrant deaths have finally forced European politicians to act. A set of immediate plans has already been announced and I expect these will be refined over the coming months.

Nobody knows what the leaders will do yet, but they are finally wringing their hands and trying to do something. Fewer than 10% of all global refugees are entering Europe, but attempts to seek asylum in the EU are up almost half in a year. Clearly the EU needs to work together on this issue rather than leaving the Italians and Maltese to bear the cost alone.

However, the hatred that leads migrants to be compared to cockroaches can only exist in a society that has little sympathy with the plight of those forced to flee their home in search of a better life. All the British political party leaders have been quick to condemn what happened off the coast of Libya, but will they also condemn popular commentators such as Hopkins? People don't risk their life in these boats just because they want to come to Britain to claim Job Seekers Allowance - these people are desperate.

The UK has a problem with immigration. Even those who support migration have to concede that there are practical difficulties, such as a squeeze on school class sizes and GP waiting lists in areas where many new people have settled. This has boosted parties such as UKIP where a withdrawal from the EU - and therefore an end to free migration throughout Europe - is one of their major policies.

But will this crisis in the Mediterranean force the major parties to start a mature debate about migration and the difference between helping desperate refugees compared to the management of economic migrants?

History does not demonstrate that the debate was any more mature before the rent-a-gob Internet commentator was a part of how we consume news. A little known fact about the UK is that as the Second World War became imminent, and even after the war had commenced, the only Jewish refugees allowed to enter the UK were those who had guarantees that all their living expenses would be met by the Jewish community.

It would be wonderful if the UK could move on from this indifference and intolerance, to embrace a more global and connected view of the world. An educated and connected Britain is surely the only way for the nation to retain relevance in a twenty-first century where economic power has already moved east.

But this shift in power is hard to accept for a nation that still commanded a global empire almost within living memory. Whatever the solution is for the changing structure of UK society and EU migration it will not come from hatred whipped up by the media. Hatred of this kind comes from looking back at the past. The leaders in the UK desperate to be elected by the population next month all need to be looking to the future.