Yomi Adegoke writes about the increasing use of polarised, gladiatorial “debates” to try and get social media attention.
The BBC has said it will no longer have climate change deniers in debate with climate change activists, as it’s a “false balance”. Yet the topic of racism is handled in the same way a TV programme might treat the topic of extraterrestrials; punctuated with a large question mark.
Lecturers, authors and professors for whom this is their life’s work and personal experience, are pit against talking-heads whose qualifications to discuss racism appear to be the fact that they’re white, pissed off, and more often than not, perpetrators of the very racism they’re discussing.
It’s not just race. I can very much relate to this:
as the conversation surrounding race in the UK becomes more toxic, I’ve received more requests to partake in this type of debate on TV more than ever. And like several other black journalists I know, I have been immediately sceptical about the motivation behind this newfound eagerness to debate topics the media has historically sidelined.
The UK media had absolutely no interest in trans people until 2017. We’ve had so-called self-ID in law since the 1970s and in practice since the 1940s. The original Gender Recognition Act, which enables us to change our birth certificates and HMRC details, passed without fuss in 2004. The Equality Act, which gives us protection from discrimination and legislates about access to single-sex spaces, has been law for a decade.
And yet again and again we’re seeing trans people and allies being put up against people who are the gender equivalents of anti-vaxxers or climate change deniers: denying science, demonstrating profound ignorance of the law, claiming that the medical establishment is part of a conspiracy and that trans people are some kind of sinister lobby hell-bent on destroying civilisation and stealing your children. Repeatedly platforming them is either due to incompetence – there’s a distinct lack of fact-checking around these so-called debates, with complete fabrications often being aired unchallenged – cynical traffic-chasing or malice.
There are not always two sides to a story; differing positions do not always have equal weight. To pretend otherwise in the hope of generating social media traffic is despicable and dangerous.