Fascists don’t always turn up wearing uniforms and sieg heiling — why doesn’t the BBC understand that?

Radio 4’s The Untold just gave free publicity to far-right agitators

Last week a Sky History channel show called The Chop — it’s a woodworking competition — was canned after one episode after Twitter users, including the journalist Dawn Foster, identified that a contestant had neo-nazi face tattoos.

The guy’s excuse that the numbers involved referred to his dead father — who… isn’t dead — quickly fell apart, revealed to be less believable than a film produced by Joseph Goebbels. It was a sad, sorry, and reprehensible incident exacerbated by Sky History’s social media managers attempting to shoo away the concerns on social media.

While it’s shocking that Sky History, a channel absolutely obsessed with Nazis and the Second World War, could fail to pick up on a contestant’s flesh billboard covered with Hitler commemorating scrawls, the BBC getting rolled by a far-right group again is… well, par for the course.

This time, it’s not BBC News credulously giving the far right room to roam, but the soft-voiceover obsessed slice-of-life Radio 4 documentary series, The Untold, which is fronted by the restaurant critic and Guardian columnist, Grace Dent.

In a recent episode of the latest season, Dent’s producer Sue Mitchell ‘spends time’ with Jeremy Davis, a wedding DJ from the Midlands, who has turned himself into the Admiral Dönitz of Little Boats, a far-right group that confronts refugees and migrants making the dangerous channel crossing.

Just look at that name again — Little Boats — a reference to the flotilla of fishing trawlers, pleasure cruisers, and other recreational ships which sailed to France to extract members of the British Expeditionary Force from the teeth of the Nazi advance. Davis is framing he and his friends as the heroic defenders of Britain and desperate refugees as terrifying invaders.

Now let’s look at how The Untold frames the group in the promotional material for the episode 👇🏻

Throughout these developments Jeremy Davis is finding his feet in this growing movement and he's keen to go on night patrol in a bid to gather information about the illegal crossings and those who behind them. As Border Force officers undertake rescues at sea Mr Davis is on hand with his Union Jack flags - his anger is visible as he looks on at the rescue efforts. And he's furious at what he says is Government inaction both here and in France,

Throughout the dying days of summer the sea crossings continue, with more than 6,000 making the journey by the start of September. As Mr Davis and his Little Boats supporters count the arrivals they are also working out how to make their protests count. "Keyboard warriors don't get anywhere, demonstrations do nothing," says Mr Davis:

"We do not want to be running around disrupting towns and cities but we are going to do a few things that ruffle feathers."

His website states: "We are covertly sending targeted patrols out into the Channel to engage and attempt to safely ward off undocumented illegal migrants in boats coming to our shores until the government finally act."

Notice that the copy is framed entirely from the perspective of ‘Little Boats’. That absence of balance is continued in the actual programme which puts Davis’ voice and racist views to the fore and does not subject them to sustained criticism or analysis.

Sue Mitchell, the episode’s producer, has also published a news feature about Jeremy Davis for the BBC News website, and favourited far-right tweets.

I think there are two possible conclusions here:

  1. The BBC and the producers of The Untold guilelessly — and ignoring the example of Mussolini — believe(d) Davis and Little Boats would hang themselves with their own words.

  2. Mitchell is actually sympathetic to Davis and shares similar views meaning she allowed the documentary to be skewed so throughly in his favour.

Neither of those options is good. Of course the BBC and BBC News specifically can and should report on the far-right but accepting what far-right activists say as good faith commentary is very stupid, whether it’s an explanation of what they’ve got tattooed on their faces or why they’ve taken to dinghies to undertake ‘patriotic endeavours’ (violent vigilantism).

Hitler was a failed painter with a comical moustache and some wacky opinions… until he wasn’t.