I am grateful to all who read and interacted with my post about why I am sad LBC have chosen to fire Katie Hopkins. You can read the post in full by following the link.
I, of course, recognise there is a difference between free speech and providing a platform from which anybody can say whatever they want. I also recognise, in certain areas of work, there are public standards to which professionals must adhere in order to do their job credibly, such as teachers and doctors for example. I do believe, however, media outlets seeking to form the national debate have a duty to present the widest possible range of views, even those that many of us might find unpalatable. Failure to do so is to skew the discussion in favour of either the bias of the organisation or mainstream views. It inevitably means that non-mainstream views are pushed out of the public eye and do not go away but go unchecked and unhindered.
I accept the likes of Katie Hopkins are not sympathetic victims. These are people with whom many rightly disagree. The things they say are obnoxious and repulsive, designed to stir up as much controversy as possible. For all these reasons, I do not like them any more than anybody else. But should media outlets bar them from public discussion – or, at least, ensure their views will not get a public airing – by taking away any platform they may afford?
Exactly the same sort of arguments were levelled against Dan Walker when he was asked to present BBC Breakfast. Only, then, it wasn’t a wagging tongue referencing the Holocaust implying a similar fate ought to befall British Muslims, it was the much more genteel fact that Dan is a Christian. Specifically, some wished to argue that because he was a creationist – a term never defined during discussion and on which Mr Walker has never publicly proffered his view – he should not be permitted to present the news. The issue might be different but the arguments were the same. Should we let somebody holding such non-mainstream views onto public television? Even presuming he is one, do we want to let a creationist read the news? Such views are not mainstream and were deemed, by some, beyond the pale. You can read the two articles I wrote at the time here and here.
It seems worth comparing this to the same treatment faced, in some quarters, by Fatima Manji. In the aftermath of an Islamist terror incident, the ever odious Kelvin Mackenzie determined she should not have been permitted to read the news. You can read my response to that farce here. Mackenzie employed precisely the same sort of arguments used to remove Katie Hopkins from post which were, similarly, the same arguments used against Dan Walker. Interestingly, in the case of Manji, the mainstream media were broadly behind her whilst – with the notable exception of the BBC – they all used identical arguments to call in question Walker’s fitness to be on TV.
Then we have the recent sacking of Kelvin Mackenzie himself. I have rarely ever felt sorry for the man. What is particularly silly in his case is that his erstwhile employer should have fired him long ago after printing heinous lies about the victims of Hillborough, which really should be a sackable offence. Instead, he was sacked for making an albeit unfunny jibe in an opinion piece about an Everton footballer, Ross Barkley, looking like a gorilla. A firestorm erupted when it emerged Barkley has a Nigerian grandfather. Mackenzie said he knew nothing about Barkley’s heritage and, though he clearly meant the reference to be insulting, certainly did not intend it to be a racial slur. In this particular instance, I do believe him. The Sun apologised for the comments about Barkley, but made no apology regarding other remarks made about Liverpudlians in general. Lo, Mackenzie was sacked. It seems printing overt lies can be readily forgiven but printing an ugly opinion – even if the darkest possible reading of what was meant was obviously not intended – leads to instant dismissal.
Likewise, the Rev David Robertson – former moderator of the Free Church of Scotland – has noted the following on his blog:
I WAS asked to be a regular contributor to a BBC programme but after being ambushed on the issue of the day – transgender rights – and stating that I don’t think it is a good idea to encourage five-year-olds to choose one of 26 genders, I found myself quietly removed (without being told, I was just ‘uninvited’). There was a social media hate campaign that attacked me because of my ‘hateful’ views. It’s ironic that sometimes the best place to experience hate is to go to an anti-hate rally.
You can read his thoughts on the particular programme in question here. But for daring not to assent to the mainstream view on transgender rights, despite having been asked to be a regular contributor to the programme, he was dropped and had any platform removed. Who decides that this view is beyond the pale? More to the point, how can there even be a debate if the other views can’t be aired?
Whether dealing with two unsypathetic characters in Katie Hopkins and Kelvin Mackenzie or more sympathetic people in Dan Walker and Fatima Manji, the arguments broadly remain the same. Here are people who express or hold views we deem unpalatable and the case is made that they should not be given any airspace. Without resorting to the fact that you either agree with one and not the other, or do not find their particular views too offensive, what precisely is the difference? It also bears asking when does a non-mainstream opinion become unairable? Who decides on the tipping point? Unless we are happy to lump the views of those we find unpalatable, even in the media, it seems likely we are going to repeatedly get such inconsistencies.