Searchlight Magazine

Glasshouses, stones and the thought police

We had to laugh at Matthew Collins’s blog post on Sunday showing up an English Defence League supporter’s inability to spell “Britain”. The unfortunate man, who Collins said was photographed on an EDL demo on Saturday, had no neck, a day’s stubble all over his head and face and a tattoo featuring a Union Jack above the word “Britian”. Earlier that evening Collins had poked fun at an EDL flag that included the question: “What happend [sic] to free speech?”

The irony of it was that I used to subedit Collins’s copy for Searchlight. All I will say is what you read in the magazine under his name often bore little resemblance to what I received.

I don’t know who subedits his blog now, but the job isn’t done very well, judging by last Thursday’s story [*] about “the tiny far-right group Britian [sic] First” and a picture caption three weeks ago referencing the same “Britian First” group. A word of advice to Collins: don’t get any new tattoos done.

Mind you, I don’t condemn people for an inability to spell. If a child emerges after 11 or so years of schooling and cannot spell or construct grammatically correct sentences, that’s more a criticism of the education system than of the child. And one doesn’t know what family and personal circumstances might have made it hard for an individual to access education fully or whether they are dyslexic, as are at least two of Collins’s colleagues.

Of late Collins and his sidekick Simon Cressy have been reproducing extract after extract from EDL supporters’ Facebook pages, sometimes accompanied by a comment to the effect that social media are the best source of intelligence. I wonder if it has ever occurred to them that some of the people whose Facebook pages they spend so much time scrutinising might be writing for effect, with the express intention that their remarks be monitored.

I’m not denying that Facebook can be a source of intelligence but not on its own and not by accepting everything on there at face value (pun intended).

Their comprehensive monitoring of Facebook might however be appreciated from one quarter: the police, to whom they proudly and frequently boast they pass on any remark that does not meet their approval.

Pictures too can be misleading at times. On 3 October Cressy posted a photo of Steve McEllenborough, an English Democrats activist in Liverpool, wearing Second World War American army uniform posing in front of a portrait of Hitler. Cressy commented: “Before his time in the English Democrats, McEllenborough was a BNP activist and candidate which might go some way to explain his political leanings.”

If Cressy had bothered to find out he would have known that the photo was taken at an airsoft game area, McEllenborough was celebrating beating the “German team” and they were raising money for the charity Help the Heroes. But why let the facts get in the way of a good story? Distortion is much easier than obtaining genuine intelligence and analysing it. 

[* Collins has now corrected this error – SG 31.10.2012]

© 2013 Searchlight Magazine Ltd, PO Box 1576, Ilford IG5 0NG

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