Katie Hopkins: the rise and fall of a vile Islamophobe
The curious infamy of Katie Hopkins has increased as she seeks to avoid bankruptcy after a British court ordered that she pay damages and legal costs for making defamatory comments. The columnist and radio host has achieved notoriety for her racist extreme-right views, and the London radio station LBC terminated her contract in 2017 after she called for a “final solution” to the Muslim “problem.”
“I am not Islamophobic, Islam disgusts me. This is entirely rational,” Hopkins said in July 2016, when she worked with both the Daily Mail and LBC, two pillars of the UK media industry. Her comments on a range of issues — such as the disabled, the unfortunate and refugees — constitute an indictment of the media’s role for allowing such discourse to occupy the mainstream. With her demise, there is a real opportunity to take stock and ensure that such vitriol has no place in civilized debate.
The BBC was the first to bring Hopkins into the mainstream with “The Apprentice” TV show. The Sun then enthusiastically paraded her as a must-read controversial columnist. She used her column to compare migrants making the dangerous journey across the Mediterranean to “cockroaches,” a comment that eventually led to her dismissal.
The case of Hopkins highlights how print, radio and TV editors have been the single most important factor in the dissemination of her appalling worldview
Zaid M. Belbagi
Having raised her profile significantly, the Daily Mail raced to hire her, knowing her racist outbursts would generate millions of clicks on its website. Eventually, Hopkins proved too much even for the Mail’s sensationalist online agenda, and she was once again let go. The recurring issue is that each time her views were deemed too controversial, other outlets were only too keen to take her on, thereby lowering the media’s standards and normalizing hate.
Given her previous callous comments about those in financial difficulty, stating in 2014 that “the only thing people in debt have in common other than bad money management, is an ability to blame anyone but themselves,” there is no shortage of glee at her present financial situation.
However, her implosion is not an opportunity to ridicule her finances, but rather to take stock of the sustained errors in judgment made by senior British media editors in the past decade.
This is the reality of the modern media business; in a bid to dominate a crowded, fast-paced environment, publications have lowered their standards to drive online interaction and grab the attention of a readership that increasingly struggles to focus.
How the UK’s leading news outlets employed a commentator who regularly referred to the Prophet Mohammed as a “pedophile” brings their respect for religious tolerance into question. It also highlights the pitiful state of Britain’s Muslim community for not holding the media to account for what is unadulterated hate speech, which has always been part of political discourse but has been made more credible by irresponsible journalism.
The case of Hopkins highlights how print, radio and TV editors have been the single most important factor in the dissemination of her appalling worldview. Such decisions were taken to raise viewership and their bottom lines; they had nothing to do with freedom of speech.
The past decade has been a shameful episode for traditional media. If it is to remain relevant, it must differentiate itself from sensationalist online platforms and ensure that integrity is central to reporting.
• Zaid M. Belbagi is a political commentator, and an adviser to private clients between London and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).