The BBC has sparked fury among its audience over its decision to broadcast a “racist” speech warning Britain could face “rivers of blood” if it failed to curb immigration.
The speech by Conservative government minister Enoch Powell was first delivered during a conference in Birmingham 50 years ago. Powell was sacked from his role of shadow defence spokesman by the Conservative party’s then leader, Edward Heath, amid claims his words incited violence.
Now actor Ian McDiarmid has been tasked with delivering the full incendiary speech as part of a BBC program airing on Saturday. But the announcement sparked outrage among the public, with critics saying the speech – which calls for a policy to repatriate foreigners – should not be given a platform.
Labour peer Lord Adonis, a frequent critic of the corporation, filed an official complaint to UK broadcasting watchdog Ofcom, saying: “The BBC claims in its advance publicity that this is some kind of artistic enterprise broadcast provides a unique opportunity to hear the speech in full.”
Powell’s 1968 speech – ‘I see the River Tiber foaming with much blood; in 15 years time the black man will have the whip hand over the white man’ – is the worst incitement to racial violence by a public figure in modern Britain. The BBC should not be broadcasting it on Saturday
— Andrew Adonis (@Andrew_Adonis) April 12, 2018
He went on: “As a special tribute to the 50th anniversary of ‘rivers of blood’, the BBC is broadcasting the full text of the most incendiary racist speech of modern Britain that was not even broadcast at the time.”
However an Ofcom spokesperson responded, saying they cannot judge on broadcasters’ editorial content before transmission.
One of the contributors to the program, University of Wolverhampton academic Dr Shirin Hirsch, herself said she was no longer comfortable with how the show is being presented.
The public has also had its say, with some tweets calling the BBC’s move a “creepy normalization of racism.”
The BBC’s decision to promote Enoch Powell’s ‘Rivers Of Blood’ speech is just another example of the creeping normalisation of racism.
— (((Dan Hodges))) (@DPJHodges) April 12, 2018
The BBC broadcasting Enoch Powell’s Rivers of Blood speech shows that not only has racism become normalised, it is now fashionable. Some people will tune in and view the speech as a call to arms and believe, that because it’s on the BBC, this line of thinking is acceptable.
— Shehab Khan (@ShehabKhan) April 12, 2018
I was 7 years old when Powell made Rivers of Blood speech. My parents were shocked. My mother said that if he ever became PM we’d leave the country (we are Jews).
The speech was designed to stir up racial hatred. Let it be discussed in educational settings. NOT broadcast on BBC.
— Tom London (@TomLondon6) April 12, 2018
The BBC hit back, saying the speech would be dissected bit by bit and “rigorously” analyzed. In a statement it said: “Many people know of this controversial speech but few have heard it beyond soundbites. Radio 4’s well-established program Archive on 4 reflects in detail on historical events and, in order to assess the speech fully and its impact on the immigration debate, it will be analyzed by a wide range of contributors including many anti-racism campaigners.
Naively, I assumed people would click on the link. So let me clarify, for @Andrew_Adonis and others, that the speech is broken up, and critiqued by voices from across the spectrum. Not just read out in a single go. Though of course some will still object https://t.co/ZTGNYHnNgt
— Amol Rajan (@amolrajanBBC) April 12, 2018
“This is a rigorous journalistic analysis of a historical political speech. It’s not an endorsement of the controversial views and people should wait to hear the program before they judge it.”
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