La censure par le privé ou par le publique, s’agirai-t-il d’une pente savonneuse?.

Privé ou publique, du pareil au même?

Voici un article du Times anglais, journal conservateur, concernant une décision des trains Virgin de ne plus vendre certains journaux dans leurs wagons.

En France, c’st  la « double peine » e comme le montre le sort de Stéphane Guillon, congédié par France Inter puis par Bolloré?

La loi promise par le Président Macron sur les fake news, dans un pays qui se veut exemplaire sur des questions de liberté, ne fera pas oublier que     la Belgique n’est pas loin, la Suisse non plus, même le Québec, franchement francophone.

Bernard Owen, Maria Rodriguez McKey

Beware the slippery slope of censorship

david aaronovitch

There is apparently a publication called Razzle. I’d never heard of it before yesterday when it came up during a Twitter discussion about Virgin Trains’ decision to stop selling the Daily Mail. Some asked why I was criticising Virgin over its boycott of the Mail when I wasn’t criticising it for refusing to sell Razzle. Or Socialist Worker, or a series of hypothetical titles from Nazism Today to a collection of improbable fetish magazines.

Here’s what the fuss was all about. Virgin Trains has for some time stocked a small selection of newspaper titles for sale in their onboard shops. The Times is one of them and, until recently, the Mail was too. But then Virgin told its staff in an internal memo that the Mailwould no longer be made available. This was nothing to do with lack of demand but because, in the words of the memo, the paper’s editorial content was “not compatible” with the Virgin brand. The decision, the memo suggested, was partly in response to the Mail’s editorial stance on matters such as “immigration, LGBT rights and unemployment”.

My argument was that stopping selling the Mail for this reason amounted to censorship and was wrong. Before I give my reasons, just take a look at the response I got. Within minutes I was inundated with accusations that I was the one who was mistaken. Most of these points were made politely, and some by people I know and respect.

But what struck me most was their combination of ingenuity and disingenuousness. Very few of them said what they really think — “the Daily Mail is a hateful publication and deserves to be boycotted” — and imacronstead tried to argue that, in this case, the ban did not amount to censorship. The Razzle line of logic, if you can call it that, was the most commonly used line of attack. Private companies are not required to sell or advertise products that they, for whatever reason, don’t like or which they don’t believe will make money. So, my opponents argued, refusing to stock the Mail is no different to refusing to stock the Morning Star. Besides, no one will be stopped from reading the Mail on the train, so what are people like me worrying about?

This is what I’m worrying about: if a company servicing the public (in this case a monopoly train company) decides that it disapproves of the general content of a publication and withdraws it from sale, then this constitutes an act of censorship. The fact that, in the case of Virgin Trains, it’s a private company making the decision doesn’t make it any less reprehensible.

Back in the day, Prague airport had one British paper: the Morning Star

Ah, said some anti-Mail types. But isn’t this simply a commercial decision based on an appreciation by Virgin that many of its customers don’t like the Mail and that it’s wiser not to appear to endorse it? Just business common sense really; what’s all the fuss about? The fuss is that this is a slippery slope. Back in the day, if you flew in or out of Moscow or Prague airports, you could always find a British newspaper. And it was always the same one: the Morning Star. The communists’ reasoning was much the same as Virgin’s. The bourgeois British press gave a distorted picture of life in socialist countries, spread false propaganda and ignored the struggles of the working class at home. The Morning Star was the only paper compatible with proletarian internationalist values.

Around the same time, WH Smith, the news and magazine retailer, took Gay Newsoff its shelves and kept it off for years. Its reason for doing so was quickly forgotten but it maintained the ban as, in effect, a statement of disapproval of gay liberation. I don’t imagine that many defending Virgin’s attitude to the Mail would have any difficulty in seeing this action as one of pure, old-fashioned censorship. Smith’s, of course, used the commercial argument to defend its decision too.

Companies cave as soon as campaigners bring a loud hailer

British politics is becoming increasingly tribal, not around parties but around identities. The people disagreeing with me on Twitter were overwhelmingly members of my own tribe. Like me they have spent the past few years being defeated and feeling insulted. They are in a bubble, they are metropolitan lefties, they are not patriotic, they don’t “get it”, they’re traitors, Remoaners and the figures they admire are “enemies of the people”. Yet despite the constant accusations, they feel sneered against rather than sneering. So they are as mad as hell and they aren’t going to take it any more.

One focus of their anger is with those news outlets and journals that have done most, in their view, to stoke up the social media fires. They see a relentless anti-migrant, anti-liberal campaign run by many outlets but above all by the Daily Mail. Hence an organisation like Stop Funding Hate, whose sole objective is to stop advertisers placing their business with what they regard as “unethical” publications. They perceive the Virgin decision as a big victory.

But in doing so, these people fail to see how the other side sees them. To many who may not even read the Mail but who oppose the kind of one-sided censorship that now gets it banned from trains, the boycott represents a bullying juggernaut hurtling towards them and their belief in the freedom of expression. Today Virgin, tomorrow . . . who else?

Going down this route — using the bludgeon rather than reasoned argument — simply answers intolerance with more intolerance. To attempt to shut down a world view, however much it may offend you, is far worse than allowing that world view to be heard. And doing so merely justifies attempts to shut down the opinions of those who claim to be liberals.

Companies such as Virgin, I fear, will continue to let this sort of piecemeal censorship happen; they’re not brave. They’ll cave quite easily in the face of campaigns or pressure groups if it means a quiet life. Galleries displaying controversial works of art or theatres staging controversial plays are full of courage until the moment a campaign group with a loud hailer pitches up in the foyer to harass the punters.

You can be the bold, banning anti-racist one moment, only to find that you’re someone else’s to-be-banned transphobe the next.

When the censors come knocking it’s never just for your enemies. That’s why the only thing that we can all hang on to is the right to be heard whatever we think of the other side’s opinions.