Jan Moir’s homophobic Daily HateMail article is starting to bring up difficult questions:
The piece, by Jan Moir, has also prompted more than 1,000 complaints to the Press Complaints Commission (PCC).
A Met police spokesman said: “We have received a complaint from a member of the public.”
Moir defended her column saying suggestions of homophobia were “mischievous” and that the backlash was a “heavily orchestrated internet campaign”.
It’s awkward isn’t it? Was her invecive against Stephen Gately actually hate speech? I suspect it might have been, but is that the most important consideration? She clearly had an agenda in writing the article, as did the HateMail in publishing it, but does trying to prosecute her for it not make her a martyr and absolve the HateMail from being a regularly homophobic rag? Brendan O’Neill goes further:
The irony of the anti-Moir brigade is that it is witch-hunting Moir in the name of ‘tolerance’. She was intolerant, they say, and that is intolerable – therefore she can no longer be tolerated. The irony of expressing shrill intolerance of someone for being intolerant is lost on these illiberal liberals. In a sense, Moir hasn’t done anything particularly wrong; certainly she hasn’t done anything ‘evil’. Causing offence is a natural part of rowdy and testy public debate. No, the real problem arises when people politicise their feeling of having been offended, when they effectively argue that it is unacceptable for them to have felt offended and thus the offending party must be chastised. Offensiveness is a part of life; the politics of inoffensiveness is a threat to free speech and open debate.
Apparently attacking Jan Moir is a substitute for actually arguing why her attacks on Gately were wrong, why her ludicrous assertion that civil partnerships can be fatal was wrong, and justifying why her homophobic hate was wrong. O’Neill sounds very much like he’s advocating absolute freedom of speech, but maybe he’s not – maybe he’s just suggesting that the article didn’t cross the line between causing offense and inciting hatred. Maybe in that he has a point – Moir didn’t after all say that all gay people were evil, that Stephen got what was coming to him, or that gay equality should be rolled back; but hatred is rarely couched in such terms. It’s a seductive argument – liberal values should always have to be justified and rejustified – what I would ask though is why? Why should she be given a free pass to publish homophobic (which is clearly what it was) invective? Why should she not be held to account for it? Why should it have to be explained every time that homophobia is wrong and why it’s wrong?
I’ve seen similar commentary suggesting that being intolerant of her intolerance makes us worse than her. I don’t buy the argument for a second – I would on any occasion that she was threatened in any way or if violence were advocated, but I’ve not seen such comments. The vast majority of the attacks back on her represented common sense disgust at a homophobic attack on a man unable to defend his reputation, but I accept it did miss the greater point. Daily HateMail editor-in-chief Paul Dacre, the man ultimately responsible for authorising the article for publication, remains the chairman of the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) editors’ code committee. He runs an overwhelmingly homophobic tabloid newspaper, yet is also responsible for the means of redress against journalistic homophobia – Jan Moir is actually just a bit player in this story.
There are obvious limitations to free speech – there always have been, but I’m not suggesting that her anti-gay speech be banned; her freedom of speech comes with responsibilities and consequences. In a society now largely gay tolerant (if not necessarily friendly), the right solution was to go to the sponsors underpinning the article’s publication and make the case to them that their active or tacit support of Moir’s article would have business consequences for them. They apparently agreed (how many large businesses want to appear homophobic these days?) and their departure caused an impact on Dacre’s business; he won’t be thrilled with that, or with her. The nature of social media means however that this highly effective online activism is unlikely to coalesce into a larger movement – that’s regrettable, because the means are now there to bypass outdated (and ineffective) structures like the PCC, and hold bigots to account (not to mention toxic waste dumpers). We do need to constantly talk about where the line needs to be drawn with freedom of speech – but I remain highly impressed at the stand the Twitterati (and others) took against naked anti-gay hatred last week.
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