Political journalist Patrick Christys discusses concerns about controversy and what working for Nigel Farage is really like with UA92 Insider’s Emily Hogg.
Nigel Farage is arguably one of the most infamous political figures the UK has ever seen. With views that almost always go against the country’s popular opinion, the question must be asked: how has Farage kept his visibility?
His views are significantly right-wing, but he is still accepted within the UK’s political climate. Farage is a figurehead for those who feel neglected by the moderate and centrist politics that we see in this country.
How to stay relevant as a controversial figure
Patrick Christys knows Farage well. A successful political journalist, Christys has dealt with some of Britain’s most controversial characters and says Farage commands so much interest because “he is not really a normal politician, he is a campaigner, that’s what he what he does”.
He explains: “The main thing actually is relevance, Nigel’s massive thing for ages was Brexit and the after we got that done it was about getting the type of Brexit that he wanted, then it became about channel migrant crossings and then it became about lockdowns and that we shouldn’t have those.”
Christys has worked directly with Farage, too, helping to write his speeches and plan out hourly social media posts. The journalist has undoubtedly played a role in Farage’s success in recent years and the attraction of both the media and the public to such a controversial character.
Having a controversial viewpoint on key events such as Brexit and the coronavirus pandemic has allowed Farage to stay relevant, encouraging momentum in discussions of situations whether people agree with him or are harsh critics. Christys explains this, saying: “It’s about picking that campaign and finding what the people find relevant and big enough and hammering that point really.”
Concerns of controversy
Christys reveals that he worried “massively” about how he would be perceived personally after choosing to work with someone who is so controversial. Particularly as in his early career as a local journalist he was not political. “Although I reported on local politics, I did not have a massive opinion either way, I could not say that I was a Conservative, or I was a Labour supporter.”
As critics of Farage often believe that his views are right wing to the point of being discriminatory towards immigrants, starting to work with him came with risks especially in such a socially liberal society.
After admitting to initial naiveties when entering the world of political journalism about how much politics is visible in the office and the label of being right wing when working for the Daily Express during the EU referendum campaigns, Christys says he “really thought about it, and I do support Brexit and share those political views”.
Working under Brexit Party Member of European Parliament Michael Heaver brought concerns due to the possibility of “guilt by association”, especially as most young people identify with left-wing ideologies.
Christys has also seen been on the wrong side of right-wing figures when interviewing Katie Hopkins. An interview resulted in him being suspended from his radio station and a legal battle. He took this experience as a “learning curve”, and although he explained that it was a difficult situation to deal with, he has improved his interview preparation going forward.
Fitting in with unpopular opinion
Christys found a frustration in how his views were perceived, saying: “If I made a point about backing Brexit, really the reason I supported Brexit was not about mass control of immigration, it was more of a personal feeling about sovereignty and national independence, but most people would have thought that I was probably a racist.”
During TV appearances, discussing issues surrounding immigration control and he made points such as nurses in this country being reliant on food banks, having issues with a stretched education system and a housing crisis being reasons to focus on the UK rather than the EU. However, he felt as though people did not believe that they were not genuine opinions and that they had discriminatory connotations.
Matt Boyle, described by the Colombia Journalism Review as “a zealous prophet of the new right-wing media”, has similar views on this to Christys, believing that the liberal media has destroyed journalistic integrity and that “everything is about weaponization of information”.
More recently, Christys has been able to stop worrying about how his views are perceived as, “politics is life and although I may be seated near people such as Nigel Farage, it is just a job.”
Transparency of opinion or strict bipartisanship?
In the UK, historically, there has been a strict bipartisan broadcast media with neutral hosts and balanced debates, with print media being the only news sources with honest political biases. Ofcom states that “news in whatever form, is reported with due accuracy and presented with due impartiality”, meaning that reporting should be free from political bias and there are further rules preventing politicians form acting as news readers unless editorially justified.
However, all journalists will have their own political persuasions and they will undoubtedly impact the questions that they ask and the extent to which they try to enforce accountability.
The difference in treatment of politicians is visible, for example where Donald Trump was harshly criticised by the media for his use of executive orders, Joe Biden was praised even in the absence of press conferences which leaves a gap in accountability. This encourages the question of whether transparency of the views of journalists would help democracy as viewers would have a better insight into influences in how news is covered.
When discussing this, Christys says: “I feel as though if I read a news article or watch someone on the TV, I can probably guess what their politics are so you might as well just say your opinion and then balance this with someone from the other side of the argument.”
He expressed his concerns of “subtle indoctrination”, due to unconscious bias in organisations such as the BBC and stories that are not inherently political become political. “A lot of the time when people turn on the BBC, I think they are being lied to about the true motives behind that report.”
Overall, opinions in journalism may not be as damaging as they have previously appeared to be and working around controversial figures can also be beneficial to the development of a career.