Friday, 22 March 2013

Pranks and Prejudice: Littlejohn versus Christian and Greig

Michael Christian and Mel Greig, in case you've forgotten, are were recently most evil disc jockeys in the world, because they took the piss out of the Royal Family via a prank call to a nurse, Jacintha Saldhana, who subsequently killed herself. That they lost that not-so-coveted position is probably more due to the role of most evil DJ being suddenly and comprehensively taken over by a more deserving candidate, of course. Julie Burchill got herself similarly shoved off the winners' podium in the Great Transphobic Stakes this week by the thoroughly loathsome Richard Littlejohn, again a far more deserving candidate for the post.

It can seem, sometimes, as though gobbing off is a worse crime than actually picking up a lump of wood and having at someone.People who say things, write things, draw things, sing about things in ways which are 'offensive' can get vilified or punished far more than some of the people who actually assault or kill others. The sentences given to Justin Lee Collins and Matthew Woods in the same week would bear that theory out, as I said at the time

On the whole, I've always been on the side of the writers and the speakers and the artists when the views they have expressed have upset someone or other - even if the views expressed have upset me. However obnoxious someone's views, I believe in their right to hold and express those views, and have always maintained that the best way to deal with the public airing of ignorance, bigotry, misinformation or propaganda is to allow room for the equally public countering of such stuff. When something bad happens, someone somewhere always starts insisting that censorship of some kind is the way to stop it happening again, but this is never, ever true. Censorship doesn't stop spite, it doesn't stop ignorance, and it doesn't stop violence.

Holding Greig and Christian responsible for Jacintha Saldhana's death was always ridiculous and wrong. They had no intention of hurting her, certainly no intention at all of driving her to kill herself: they were thoughtlessly pratting about with little or no malice attached. Julie Burchill's notorious rant against transpeople was a piece of fuckwitted bigotry but still only the expression of an unpleasant opinion. Richard Littlejohn's piece about Lucy Meadows, on the other hand, almost certainly led directly to her death. He may claim that he didn't want her to die, but he certainly wanted her to suffer. He wanted her to lose her job, leave her home and be shunned by her community. He said so, in his piece.

There was no justification whatsoever for publishing that piece in a national newspaper. Lucy Meadows wasn't a celebrity, she wasn't a criminal, she wasn't a campaigner seeking recognition for a cause, just someone trying to get on with her life. Her story wasn't 'news'. It had no relevance to the vast majority of  Daily Mail readers, apart from feeding their prejudices. But the publication of that story, according to emails she sent to friends, pretty much killed her by making her life unbearable. Not only were the press hounding her and her family and friends, but enough identifying information was given in the police to allow every knuckle-dragging keyboard warrior in the country to track her down and bombard her with abuse.

Before writing this post, I did a bit of googling based on a vague memory of there being a crime of Malicious Publication ie making someone's private life public for no good reason. Unfortunately, I'd remembered it wrong: at the moment, you only have legal redress if what is published about you is untrue. There should be a law against publicising the details of anyone's personal life for no reason other than to insult or mock them when the person has not in any way sought attention or publicity. The implementation of something like that might be a fitting memorial to Ms Meadows. Well, that and and end to the idea that transpeople are the minority it's OK to hate and laugh at, just because you think they're not like you.

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