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Stadiums of Hate: A response to the criticism

In response to the criticism the BBC received over their investigative programme “EURO 2012: Stadiums of Hate”, BBC Panorama Editor Tom Giles has written this blog defending the programme.

July 2, 2012 - Example Author - Articles and Commentary

warsaw stadium.jpg

warsaw stadium.jpg

In the spirit of dialogue and discussion New Eastern Europe agreed to republish his response and allow readers to make their own judgement. The views expressed here are those of the author’s alone.

Author: Tom Giles, Editor of BBC’s Panorama Programme

When Panorama, a 58-year old BBC investigative current affairs programme, aired a programme called Stadiums of Hate eleven days before a major football tournament and revealed shocking images of racist abuse and violence in and around football matches in the host countries, it was inevitable that it would prove controversial.

When it also showed a former England captain, Sol Campbell, reacting to the film’s footage of Asian supporters being racially attacked inside a Ukrainian ground due to hold EURO 2012 matches by urging England fans and families to stay away “if you don’t want to come back in a coffin”, a strong reaction – at some volume – was to be expected.

Panorama’s film-makers accepted that there would be accusations of “scaremongering” or “sensationalism” from some quarters – particularly in Poland and Ukraine, where there was strong national pride at holding EURO 2012. But we were ready and willing to defend this film, as we feel strongly that our reporting was both legitimate and fair and on an issue of genuine importance and public interest.

The investigation was originally undertaken to assess whether UEFA, European football’s governing body, was enforcing its own “zero tolerance” policy towards racism and anti-Semitism in the countries to which it had awarded such a prestigious tournament. Both countries have had reasonably well-documented problems with racist and violent behaviour around domestic football matches.

In Poland, a UEFA-funded report, published in 2011 revealed 133 serious hate crimes inside Polish stadiums (over the preceding 19 months) – an average of nearly two a week. In Ukraine, a lack of official statistics for racist attacks made the situation harder to assess. But based on its own reports, the British Foreign Office had already issued advisory warnings to Black and Asian supporters to take great care in Ukraine – possibly prompting the families of two England players to decide not travel there before our film had even been broadcast.

After filming at nine football matches in the two countries and recording violence and/or racism at all of them, and following other interviews, it was felt that there was enough evidence, within weeks of the tournament, to question whether UEFA’s policy was being properly enforced by the two countries’ football associations. We put our findings to both the Polish and Ukrainian Football Associations.

The Polish Football Association did not respond while the Ukrainians told us they couldn’t help because they were having problems with their e-mail and that our questions were too detailed for them to investigate. We also put our findings to UEFA and to Michel Platini, its president. He declined to be interviewed but we received a general statement which we broadcast.

Panorama aired the film on May 28th because we believed that the images we had recorded in April and May would speak for themselves.

The worst of these were, arguably, in Ukraine – where we filmed Asian students being attacked at a domestic football match in a EURO 2012 stadium in Kharkiv and black footballers and their families being racially abused by a section of Karpaty Lviv supporters at the Arsenal Kiev stadium. But in Poland we also filmed footage of hundreds of supporters jumping up and down on the terraces of LKS Łódź using the word “Jew” as a term of abuse – singing “who’s not jumping is a Jew” and yelling “Death to the Jew whore.”

We filmed further examples of anti-Semitism and hooligan violence in Kraków in the derby match between Wisła Kraków and Cracovia. A BBC colleague from another production also heard chants at that match which were translated to him as “Jews to the gas”. Since our film aired, Polish Radio has referred to this derby fixture as being “steeped in anti-Semitic rhetoric.” All of this regularly takes place within an hour’s drive of the Auschwitz memorial – a fact which most people around the world would find deeply shocking. But, in Poland, we have been roundly attacked for showing it “out of context”. Though we would argue we did no such thing, it’s hard to imagine what context could possibly justify such behaviour or lessen its symbolism.

At the Łódź match, we also filmed racist, white-power banners on display and our cameras clearly recorded monkey chants aimed at black players on the pitch. When we interviewed the same players, they referred to abuse they had received at Polish grounds, from supporters and from other players. Their interview was used properly and in context. In fact, UEFA-funded research had already recorded racist chanting against the same two players last August at a match in Wroclaw. 

Everything we showed inside Polish stadiums was our own, new footage. The only exception was a clearly-labelled excerpt from a 2010 French TV documentary (where has Polish TV been in this time?) at a match in Rzeszów where a large banner saying “Death to the hook noses” was paraded. We ourselves filmed a banner in the same ground this April saying “Anti-Jew Front.” In both cases, we made it clear that the authorities had penalised the club.

But to date, as far as we are aware, there has been no public condemnation, criticism or expression of concern by any official in the host countries about the racism, racist violence and anti-Semitism we filmed and showed in our programme. Nor has there been any expression of official empathy for the experiences of either the black footballers or Asian fans we featured.

Panorama has instead faced allegations of bias and xenophobia – even manipulation – from both countries’ governments and from their media, as well as from some contributors. One magazine – Newsweek Polska – accused us of refusing to answer serious allegations of manipulation – even though they never put any of them to us before publication. To be clear, Panorama strongly rejects their allegations as demonstrably untrue.

The programme itself made clear that we were investigating the behaviour of some football supporters and political hooligans – not the peoples of the countries themselves. That is why the film was called, “Stadiums of Hate”. In the film, we introduced our main Jewish interviewee, Jonathan Ornstein, who lives in Kraków, as someone who “believes most Poles happily accept other faiths, but that football hooligans are yet to catch up with wider Polish society”. We also included an interview with a UEFA-funded Polish anti-racism campaigner who made it clear that he felt the situation had improved but that there were still problems in some matches. We showed him training Polish stewards to be more aware of racist chants so that they could be stopped.

Jonathan Ornstein has since issued a statement saying he was “grossly misrepresented” in the film and that we had “exaggerated” the scenes we had shown. Panorama rejects this. Not only did we place his comments in the context of the religious tolerance of “most Poles” but the transcript of the interview shows the vast majority of his comments were in keeping with his concerns about the problems we featured, namely anti-Semitic chanting, banners and graffiti, as well as his perception that not enough was being done to counter it officially.

Mr Ornstein has also since said that our film has set back his ability to argue – as he did in the programme – that anti-Semitism in football grounds in Poland, “embarrasses the whole country”. It is unclear how the film might do that when Poland is apparently talking more widely about this issue than it has for many years. As a result, Mr Ornstein has done many interviews on Polish and overseas media – including the BBC – and it is to be hoped that he used the airtime not just to attack our programme, but to discuss the issues he was so clear about just a few weeks before. In which case, how has that not helped his cause?

There is already plenty of evidence that our film has had the opposite effect from the one he fears. Nearly two weeks after the film was first broadcast, the Deputy Mayor of Kraków has publicly accepted that Polish clubs and the Polish FA, “must take more responsibility” to prevent racism and anti-Semitism at matches and launched what is claimed to be a “comprehensive anti-racism strategy” in the city. Polish Radio has quoted the co-author of this new anti-racist strategy as saying: “the local community does not react properly to this problem. It does not actively oppose the incidents that happen and that is why they are so visible and we want to change this situation.” Again, how has our film not helped these attempts to remedy matters?

Officials in Poland have criticised Panorama for not speaking to “international security experts” instead of going to Sol Campbell, the black former senior England international, for his reactions. Mr Campbell was in turn labelled “insolent” by Ukraine’s Foreign Minister – even though he was reacting personally as someone who has worked hard to counter racist abuse inside football over many years. Both governments moved to reassure fans that they would all be safe for the tournament and apart from a few incidents and one hooligan riot in Warsaw – this has so far been the case. But in Ukraine, such reassurances were given without addressing what happened to the Asian fans we filmed being beaten up last month in one of their own stadiums and in Poland without referencing what we actually filmed inside Polish grounds. This is especially odd as we were told that there is hate-crime legislation in Poland that makes racist and anti-Semitic banners and public abuse illegal. I can only assume that the rule of law is less important, in this instance, than national Polish pride.

There has been criticism too from England Fans, the official England Supporters’ Club, travelling to EURO 2012 who called the programme “unhelpful.” Some Poles in the UK have expressed strong concern that they have been unfairly labelled as racist, though we never said Poles as a nation were racist.

But amid all these accusations against Panorama and the film, there is a real danger that the key issue has been too easily dismissed – that the overt and frightening racist and anti-Semitic abuse and violence of the kind broadcast by Panorama and practised by the hooligans and “Ultras” we showed is not only wrong but deeply de-humanising and hurtful to those on its receiving end. In the end, that was the point of the programme. We set out to highlight a wrong.

Were the beatings that the students from India sustained in Ukraine’s Metalist stadium somehow “exaggerated”? Was the fact that they said the police were of “no use” as they walked off bruised and alone into the Ukrainian night somehow “made up”? Were the monkey chants hurled at the black players we filmed in Poland simply “sensationalised”?

Of course, there is racism all over the world. There have been many controversies in Europe and in the UK during this football season alone. We mentioned this in the film – as well as the charges made against John Terry which, though he denies them, have seen him stripped of the England captaincy. We also mentioned that Sol Campbell had received racist abuse at a premiership match in 2008 – and that there had been prosecutions as a result.

In Britain, we have been through a long and difficult process of trying to ensure that these practices would be stopped at football games. As someone who went to matches in the 1970s and 1980s and who has long-time membership of an English Premiership club, I know that the sort of mass, racist chanting which happened back then is largely unthinkable now in English grounds. But we had to go through a lot of soul-searching and some concerted campaigning by the likes of “Kick it Out” before it did. Over the years, Panorama also made films about the racist and violent behaviour of fans in the UK – including some England fans. At EURO 2000, for example, it broadcast an undercover film called “England’s Shame” which captured racist chanting and violence by England supporters. Some fans’ groups accused us then of exaggerating the actions of a “tiny minority” – and labelled us “unpatriotic” in the same way that we’re now being called “xenophobic” and “racist” for apparently doing the same in Poland and Ukraine. But unlike present-day Ukraine or Poland, in the English game at least, there was always clear official condemnation of the behaviour we showed. As a result, it helped contribute to a long-term shift in our sense of what is or isn’t acceptable inside and around football and tougher legislation has been brought in to stop such things happening.

If any of the racist incidents we recorded in Poland or Ukraine had been filmed in England, I’m confident there would now be a national outcry. The authorities would quickly condemn and look to investigate those responsible – as they have recently in the case of three twitter accounts which apparently tweeted racist abuse at two black England players who missed penalties in the quarter final against Italy.

From UEFA – with its “zero-tolerance” to the issue, there was no comment until June 6th. Its President Michel Platini waited 10 days before saying he was “shocked” by what he had heard of our film, but added that there was nothing he could be expected to do. He said that despite widespread reporting of our findings on the eve of the tournament, he had not seen the disturbing scenes from our programme. Amid the furore, UEFA has not even asked us for a copy.

Despite this, I am hopeful that “EURO 2012: Stadiums of Hate” will turn out to be positive for the game in the future – and will help contribute towards a more robust approach against racism inside football and perhaps outside. During EURO 2012 itself there had been Europe-wide discussion of the issue – not least about the penalties against those charged with racism and against players who threaten to leave the pitch when it happens. There’s already evidence that UEFA is listening. There have been quick investigations and action into incidents, notably against Croatian fans during their match against Italy and against Russian fans in the match against the Czech Republic. The early allegations by players – confirmed by UEFA but denied by the Kraków authorities – of monkey chants against the Dutch squad while training in the city also helped set the tone that these things would not be allowed to pass quietly.

The success of EURO 2012 is good news for both Poland and Ukraine. But now it has ended and the pride of defending and promoting your country at a big event has passed, these issues can’t simply be forgotten or brushed aside. They will need to be dealt with. We would argue that our programme has meant that it will much harder for any country’s Football Association, not just those in Poland or Ukraine, to look the other way if the sort of behaviour we filmed is repeated. And, as we have learnt in Britain over many years, the best way to ensure and prove your tolerance as a society is surely not to attack those that cast a light on intolerance but to clearly and harshly condemn those who practise it.

Tom Giles is the editor of Panorama.

Previously published articles about the Panorama Programme:

Eurovision: Thuggery and Football by: Josh Black

Stadiums of Hate or Sensationalist Journalism by: Peter Gentle

Coming to Terms with Anti-Semitism by: Jamie Stokes

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