Journalists should support freedom of expression and accept that it means reading and hearing material that they find offensive. Better that we do that than play into the BNP's hands by censoring it.
Think about it for a moment. If a liberal society is prepared to stifle freedom of speech then it provides fascist parties with a justification for their illiberal policies. So I am relaxed about the decision by Newsquest to run BNP ads on the websites of several of its papers and would urge the NUJ to stop making a silly fuss about the issue.
A statement by Newsquest in Stourbridge pointed out that to refuse such ads "might be playing into the hands of those intolerant and anti-democratic forces that people condemn. It is for the electorate to cast judgment, not us."
According to the Media Guardian story, a number of video and banner ads appeared on the websites of titles such as the Bromsgrove Advertiser, Redditch Advertiser and Stourbridge News. It was initially thought that the ads had been removed, but Jon Slattery reported this morning that he had found them again. They proclaim: "British jobs for British workers".
A holdthefrontpage story also mentions the placing of online banner ads in the Basildon-based daily, The Echo. I could not locate them this morning, but Slattery later found small "Vote BNP" ads on the both the Echo site and that of the Colchester Gazette.
Newsquest has made out coherent arguments for running the ads. Note, for instance, the views of Martin McNeil, editorial director of Newsquest Essex, expressed to a complaining reader (and posted on the anti-fascist Lancaster Unity website).
"Thanks for your email regarding BNP advertising. We are accepting paid-for advertising from any political parties or candidates standing in the current elections.That seems to me like a perfectly reasonable justification. Due to Newsquest's anti-journalistic custom of not speaking to the press, I couldn't cast any light on why the ads seemed to have been removed for a time.
"I appreciate how strongly many people feel about the BNP, but it would be undemocratic and against the principle of free speech to refuse to accept any party's advertising provided it falls within our guidelines.
"The Echo has consistently opposed the BNP in our comment column and will continue to do so. As editor, I have twice been taken to court, unsuccessfully, by a BNP activist who did not like my editorial stance. I also regularly receive BNP hate mail.
"Despite this, I feel I must defend the right of all parties to take out paid-for advertising is support of their election candidates."
No-one was prepared to deal with my query when I called its headquarters this morning. I was told: "The only man who can speak about this is the chief executive, Paul Davidson, and he's away until the middle of next week."
McNeil was also unavailable when I called him in Basildon.