Once again it feels like I’m accused being a member of an angry mob of twitterers. This time by Catherine Bennett in The Observer, over the censure of Rod Liddle, stimulated by his potential appointment as editor of The Independent. As far as I can tell Rod Liddle is a rather unpleasant individual both in terms of his personal treatment of those close to him and in his public writing, actually looking down the first page of his Spectator articles I would appear to agree with him approximately 10% of the time.
Catherine Bennett raised this as an issue of free speech, implying that we are attempting to remove Rod Liddle’s right to free speech and also the rights of those such as Jan Moir, whilst going easy on Islam4UK. As an articulate member of a mob, I’d like to say this is really not what I want to do. To my mind Rod Liddle, Islam4UK and the BNP should all have a right to let their views be known, I just don’t believe they have a right to express that freedom anywhere or any time. However, the corollary of this is that I believe that I also have the right to point out that what they say is stupid, unpleasant and wrong. When given a public platform the BNP and Islam4UK seem to do a pretty good job at making themselves look risible, remove that platform and you risk people imagining that they are eloquent and right for lack of any evidence to the contrary.
The intriguing question with people like Jan Moir and Rod Liddle is that they have liberal backgrounds of a sort, they are clearly pretty smart. So when they write something that sounds illiberal, offensive and pandering to the basest of instincts are they simply being “radical for pay”? Do they really believe what they write, or do they just write what they know will go down well with their employers and their readers, happy in the knowledge that all publicity is good publicity. Writing a blog brings these questions to the fore, because it’s very obvious how frequently a post is read (or at least looked at). Should I write something worthy, but dull to most people and get a few hits or something that people are impassioned about which will get many hits and mentions?
What is it I want from complaint? In a way I want to shout that someone is wrong on an equal footing, I want access to the means of production (okay dissemination, but you have to turn a phrase when you can). In the past the right to provide public comment was a special privilege, available to the few who had a newspaper column or similar. What I have written here contains no more or less research than the Observer piece, I’d humbly suggest that my opinion is of equal value to Catherine Bennett’s. I am happy to accept that her writing is somewhat superior to mine. Is this the message for mainstream media? Ill-informed rant is no longer viable, because anyone can do that – genuine insight, research, knowledge and good writing are valuable because they are hard.