Monday, 19 October 2009

++ Exclusive ++ Matthew Parris on ‘Thinking before Bedding’.

'Journalists think before they write - bloggers write before they think', runs the popular mantra of those who extol the virtues of professional journalists over bloggers.

The uproar over Jan Moir's article in the Daily Mail last week prompted my own article on the hypocrisy of the Twittter crowd who had jubilantly hailed their own success at ensuring 'free speech' in rendering Carter-Ruck's injunction against the Guardian newspaper meaningless, and were now being employed in a campaign to condemn and 'punish' a similar example of 'free speech' - this time one that they didn't approve of.

Across the blogosphere, acres of bandwidth were employed to debate the issues. Global warming took another step forward to provide the newsprint to defend (rarely) or condemn Jan Moir for her temerity in speaking her mind in print.

So many voices, so many uninformed. The few who were columnists - Roy Greenslade amongst them, were not Gay. The few who were Gay were not newspaper columnists - notably Iain Dale. I wanted to hear from someone who was truly an informed commentator, someone who understood the Gay issues involved, and also understood the parameters within which a newspaper columnist should operate.

I decided to ask Matthew Parris. He was kind enough to tell me. I didn't ask for his opinion on the Jan Moir article, I was more interested in how much thought columnists should give to the possible repercussions of their writing before 'putting the paper to bed'.

"How much of a mental tightrope do you, as a professional columnist, walk before committing yourself to print – do you write from the heart, or from the head, mindful of your advertisers", I asked?

Matthew says he tries not "to agonise too much. Obviously one must take care not to risk being sued or prosecuted, but if you think too hard about how to avoid offending individuals or groups, it has a chilling effect on the vigorous expression of opinion or comment. The one thing I do think really hard about" he continued "is whether I really believe what I'm writing. To be true to yourself (if you trust yourself, and I do) is what matters most."

Even Bloggers have to think about the risk of being sued or prosecuted before committing to 'publish', but Bloggers appeal to their own niche market, newspapers, theoretically have a wider remit; but mindful of Iain Dale's comment "What is it with the Mail that it wants to alienate 10% of the population?" - "should any 'single interest' group be able to dictate by coercion or any other means, what the majority of the population reads?" I asked.

"We Gays" said Matthew, "and others whose belief is in individual freedom, need to be very, very, careful before we start using statistics about the number of people offended, as arguments for what is effectively a kind of censorship. All sides can play this game. A substantial proportion of Daily Mail readers are probably offended by Gay-sympathetic coverage. The Christian Evangelicals are just as capable as are Gay campaigning groups, of getting a mass-bandwagon going in Social Networking terms"

Here in France, discrimination of any sort is officially frowned upon, in response, many feel, discrimination has been driven underground, forced to become more subtle, I wondered whether these sort of campaigns to 'dictate' the written agenda might not have the same effect.

"Gays need to learn to have broader shoulders" thinks Matthew, "like, for example, the Irish, who almost never complain. When criticism is forbidden it goes underground. Groups who might regard themselves as very successful in deterring public criticism - Pro-Israeli or Pro-Palestinian Lobbies, for instance, or disabled lobbies, actually build up unexpressed resentment."

One feature of the Trafigura/Carter-Ruck affair was the litigant's complaint that the Minton report was premature and didn't contain all the information. A frequent criticism of the Jan Moir article was that it was premature in the sense of intruding on the family's grief. I wondered whether Twitter itself is in danger of being a 'knee-jerk' reaction before all the facts are known, and whether 'timing' affected the validity of speaking out?

"Complainants sometimes sound as though they are asking journalists to wait until public interest in a story has faded, before we write about it"

"Good journalism has always waded in, fists flying, before final judgments have been reached"

Last word to Matthew...

"So it should"

Edited to add: Apologies to Matthew - I inadvertently referred to him as a 'professional communist' in the original draft - he is no such thing of course, he is an ex-Tory MP and Columnist of the Year several times over - how could I? Argggggh!!!!!


electro-kevin said...

10% ???

Elby the Beserk said...

Matthew Parris has been a beacon of sane light for some time. His exquisite deconstructions of New Labour, and most especially, of the Madness of King Gordon are a joy to read.

Chris said...

Completely different situations:

The Grauniad, Carter-Ruck, Trafigura mess was an attempt to gag reporting of parliamentary procedure, in defiance of the established customs of British political reporting.

Jan Moir is a nasty-minded woman cynically pandering to the LCD homophobic prejudices of her readership. There was no pressing public interest excuse for her mean-spirited speculation, which she indulged in even before Mr Gately's body was decently buried. But hey, the dead don't sue for libel.

Whistleblowing corporate malpractice != speaking ill of the dead

Old Holborn said...


Are the other two involved sueing anybody?

defender said...

Yo, UKIPpers, this ones for you

Page last updated at 13:45 GMT, Monday, 19 October 2009 14:45 UK
E-mail this to a friend Printable version
UKIP may have to repay £363,697
UKIP badge
UKIP's donor was not on the electoral register

The UK Independence Party has lost the latest stage of its battle to avoid having to repay donations of £363,697.

The Court of Appeal said the gifts from retired bookmaker Alan Bown between Dec 2004 and Jan 2006 were illegal because he was not on the electoral register.

Party leader Nigel Farage threatened to appeal against the ruling, saying: "There is a very real danger that this could put UKIP out of business."

The money would go to the Treasury, not back to Mr Bown.

UKIP estimates its total bill, including legal costs, could reach £750,000.

Mr Farage said the party had nothing like that amount of money in its funds.

Fan of Ms Raccoon said...

Matt Parris has a brain and he uses it. And integrity. And guts as one of a very few journos who would not be cowed by the retired pornographer, alcoholic, manic depressive and serial liar aka A. Campbell

A polite Auberon Waugh you could say.

Now ole Ma Dale on the other hand works the gay thing all the while paying lip service to freedom of speech. Either thick or mendacious.

SO17 said...

As 90% of pop stars and actors end up dead in a wardrobe with a tangerine up their arse I think we can forgive Jan Moir's premature speculation as to what happened to Stephen Gately.

Old Holborn said...


I DOUBLE dare you to post that at Mrs Dales..

He won't publish it, but he WILL read it.

Post of the week in my opinion

Mr. Mxyzptlk said...

and this is the end for your MP

and the last thing he will ever hear will be this sound

SO17 said...

Ok, done it.

Tarquin said...

I don't agree that this is people just disproving of someone - free speech is all well and good - but foul articles like that deserve to be at least questioned, if not censored, if it did break several sections of the code of practice then I see no problem - there are rules on free speech in the media

Serves the Mail right anyway - I think that's why people are so into this anyway

Anonymous said...


ATTN ALL, THE BNP MEMBERSHIP LIST HAS BEEN LEAKED AGAIN!!!! The leaked list will be on wikileaks later this evening.

banned said...

Daily Mail comments

"We are no longer accepting comments on this article"

Can't say that I ever had a lot of time for Boyzone or Mr. Gately but Ms Moirs article was rude and disrepectful of the recently departed and his family, even if she is probably right.

Anonymous said...

Googled it but didn't find it - only references to last years leak. However, did get another link to a site called Chilling Effects which said that one of the searches had been to a child porn site... WTF are Chilling Effects 7 has anyone else had a similar thing happen? I hasten to add, I have not been to any child porn sites, as far as I know.
I'm actually in two minds about the BNP membership leak - they are a legal British political Party & is it anyone's business who's a member or not? Could we have a similar list of people who donated to Labour?

123 123 said...

Great post as for me. It would be great to read more concerning this matter.
BTW look at the design I've made myself Companionship in London

Little Black Censored said...

Not so exquisite about Clacton, however.

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