We write to complain about non-impartial use of language during the Newsnight programme broadcast on the 21st of September 2021.
On three occasions the presenter of the show, Emily Maitlis, used the term “hard left” to refer to a sector of the Labour Party, inferring then making explicit that Jeremy Corbyn belongs to said “hard left”.
During the opening of the show (00:56 on iPlayer) Maitlis asked whether Keir Starmer’s proposed changes to the voting process for Labour leadership elections were “designed to lock out any future candidates from the hard left”. As she spoke, split-videos showed Ed Miliband and Jeremy Corbyn reacting to their election as Labour leader.
Maitlis reused the term at 25:53 – “a tacit intention, perhaps, to lock out the hard left”
Finally, at 31:47 she explicitly drew a link between Jeremy Corbyn and the “hard left”: “Is this, fundamentally, about locking out the hard left so you can’t get a repeat of another Jeremy Corbyn?”
“Hard left” is not a suitable term for balanced broadcast journalism. The term has long been understood, in academic surveys of journalism, to carry negative connotations. We refer you to Wilson, John (1996). Understanding Journalism: A Guide to Issues. Psychology Press. p. 203:
“Condemnation by label is a favourite tactic of political antagonism … Descriptions like ‘hard left’, ‘far left’, ‘extreme left’ and ‘extreme right’ all have extra connotations, political under-meanings to damage the people they describe”.John Wilson
This can be affirmed by the briefest survey of the output of non-neutral commentators like Darren Grimes, Nigel Farage and Daniel Hannan. All three regularly use the phrase “hard left” as a scare term or slur (Farage, for example, recently branded the SNP as “an extreme hard left party”)
The term’s utility to commentators like this is clear – describing someone’s politics as “hard” makes them appear frightening, unreasonable, set in their ways.
We do not believe, therefore, that the BBC should be employing this term. We ask that Newsnight editorial team reflect on their use of the term (clearly a conscious decision given its repeated and consistent use on this programme) and set out an alternative framework by which they will describe the left-wing of Labour in future.
Perhaps “left-wing of Labour” would suffice?
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