News Shopper rewarding gay rant: the aftermath
August 28, 2010
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OK, so yesterday a number of SE London bloggers – including me on Londonist – wrote about the News Shopper’s decision to make a homophobic letter its ‘Star Letter” and reward the writer with a pen. See:
Note, please, that what’s being objected to is not the content of the letter – vile though it is, Mrs S Fitzsimons has the right to scribble it and the News Shopper has the right to print it – it’s the News Shopper’s decision to reward the sentiments, thereby implicitly endorsing them. The News Shopper says their Star Letter merely goes to the one they judge will generate the most debate (well, that worked for them – please see the Londonist article for tweets in which they brag of the attention it’s getting them) but, as Tom (a journalist who has edited national letters pages) points out, a paper knows, when it singles a letter out as Letter of the Week / Star Letter / Prize Letter, it’s giving the opinions prominence. The NS did not print any other letters referring to the article Mrs S Fitzsimons was writing about. They allowed her comments to be the only ones published. And they did it because they were chasing hits, irrespective of the offence it might cause.
Brockley Central covers my local councillor’s reaction – basically, “it’s all free speech, we shouldn’t attempt to censor” – which misses the point. Print the stupid bigot’s letter if you want, fine. Just don’t call it the Star Letter and give the writer a prize. That’s editorial judgement. Councillor Mike Harris’s position is that by publishing the letter, the NS highlighted a strain of prejudice and allowed readers to make up their own minds. But let’s not forget that Lewisham isn’t Islington. There are a lot of people who will agree with Mrs S Fitzsimons, and won’t see the Star Letter as an attempt to subvert such opinions by highlighting its ignorance. They’ll see it as evidence that the NS thinks they same way they do.
And then comes Dr Evan Harris on Twitter. Oh dear. I like Evan Harris. He’s a geek hero. But he’s weighing in on the same side of “we should all be able to publish everything and it’s not for us to blame the publisher”. I couldn’t stop myself tweeting him – and could not believe this particular response I got back:
Also couldn’t quite believe this tweet:
For selling a book that promotes prejudice? No. For putting it front of house in a big display saying “Book of the Week”? Yes.
Why is it so hard for people to grasp the difference between ‘publishing’ and ‘promoting’?