I don’t like Newsnight, but the harassment of Nicholas Watt sickened me

I don't like the BBC's Newsnight. And perhaps not surprisingly, as a former Sun journalist who worked for the tabloid for 25 years, my politics are often diametrically opposed to the editorial position taken by its producers.

The harassment  of Nicholas Watt betrays the values of our civilised society, argues Chris Pharo
The harassment of Nicholas Watt betrays the values of our civilised society, argues Chris Pharo

But the harassment of Nick Watt, the programme's political editor, by lockdown sceptic protesters has sickened me to my core.

We should be in no doubt that the febrile culture wars pervading Britain today are heading in a truly terrifying direction. It is a very small step from the scenes we saw this week to turn from ugly confrontation by grown men and women, who should know better, to violence.

How have we got to where we are today? In simple terms, by shooting the messengers and shutting down the debate that is the lifeblood of any civilised society.

Every day brings a new level of madness. A new TV channel is launched and with it comes a huge online effort to strangle it at birth. I'm talking about GB News, of course, and the efforts by Stop Funding Hate to close it by shaming brands to pull advertising from its programming.

The launch of a new news channel should be a cause for celebration. More journalists, seeking to tell more stories. But it seems if they're not finding the right stories, depending on which side you're on, they must be stopped, cancelled.

This is a nonsense. When did it ever serve us not to hear a different point of view? From working at the hard end of news to leading a PR team, the only way to navigate was through listening.

Nick Watt is an excellent journalist. His sources are impeccable, and his analysis is always thorough and well-thought-out. From my perspective, it is also often slanted too far to the left, a flaw I attribute to his employers at the BBC. But how could I ever reach a decision on my own opinion without listening to every side of the story?

I'm sure most people have found themselves shouting at their TV on occasion, but taking this anger onto the street and physically targeting a man for simply doing his job is a deeply disturbing and dangerous new low.

Shockingly this incident took place in the full view of several uniformed police officers who failed to lift a finger to protect Watt from the mob.

Free speech in one of the central tenets of our civilisation. As a society we must move away from this new era of activism that led to this week’s incident.

And we must protect the messengers. I don't like Newsnight, but I watch it every night.

Chris Pharo is managing director of 72Point

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