Sometimes it takes a friend to tell you something that you need to know - when you're walking around with paint-stripping body odour, or your flies are undone, for example. Your enemies won't tell you because they'll be chortling at your misfortune, and everyone else just will be too polite to tell you - but will look down on you all the same.
And it's from the position of being a massive fan of the BBC that I have to question the relevance and value of Have Your Say. Not because I don't think people should have their say - they should - but what does the current format achieve, other than being a great big jam sandwich next to an anthill? What does it do, other than give undue prominence to the views of bigots? And at a time when the BBC is going to have to justify every single piece of its output, how is our public discourse improved by having discussions which frequently get overwhelmed by extreme and offensive views?
Let's get one argument out of the way to begin with. Let's not imagine that people's freedom of speech is only represented by their ability to type whatever they want on the internet, and more specifically on a BBC forum. It isn't. No-one is clamping down on anyone's freedom of speech by denying them 'the right' to be offensive and deeply unpleasant. There is no right for people to use taxpayers' cash to spout views that make other people upset. And Auntie would not be being a massive evil censor by denying them that 'right'.
The question in the particular instance I mentioned earlier isn't awfully offensive, in my view. The debate, when taken in isolation and ignoring the context of how HYS is regularly taken over by views that you could consider to be bigoted and prejudiced, isn't either. But you can't ignore the context. The context is one in which people seek an opportunity to Speak You're Branes - and often come out with complete tosh.
You might say to me, look, it's not for anyone to decide what's tosh and what isn't, and who are you to come in and save the world? What you find offensive might not be offensive to others; what you find intelligent might be offensive to others. But that's half the story, because there is always editorial control. As soon as you stop people from swearing, or being off-topic, there's editorial control. As soon as you stop people using certain derogatory terms, that's editorial control. As soon as you decide that certain sentiments are too unpleasant to be broadcast, that's editorial control.
We don't live in a world without editorial control - and this blog is no different, by the way. I decide what comments are published, which can be a pain when there are a lot, but I prefer it that way. I let myself down on one occasion when I had a lot of comments about one particular columnist (you can probably guess who) and someone said they should be kicked to death for being a necrophiliac. Pressed for time, I let the comment through without checking, but luckily found it later and deleted it. I wouldn't be happy with having it on here - that's my decision. It's no use pretending my personal weblog is some big chalkboard for everyone else, and nothing to do with me, because that's not the case.
I know there are some who advocate everyone being allowed to say whatever they like all the time, but I'm not quite of that view. I wouldn't want someone to call my mum a whore, or say I was a paedophile, for example. I think most people wouldn't. Freedom of speech does not trump everything else, in my opinion. Which isn't to say that if one person is offended by something, it should be banned straight away - there are degrees of these things, and it's not an 'all or nothing' situation. Alongside the right to speak your mind, there's also the right not to be offended - not just by private individuals or companies, but especially from organisations we are funding through taxation. Similar issues were raised when Nick Griffin turned up on Question Time, but it was right to put him on. BBC HYS is different. It is like the panel is made up of five Nick Griffins, with another 200-odd in the audience.
Which brings me back to Auntie, and Have Your Say. It's sad, but I don't think the Great British Public can be trusted to have a balanced debate on these issues when it's a self-selecting sample. That skews it and makes it not only unrepresentative but misleadingly unrepresentative. It's not up to those who don't want gay people to be locked up, left to die on islands or killed to go onto the BBC HYS and counterbalance the more vile views on the discussion, because by the time many of these debates have got going, they've already been piled on. Remember when someone shouted "Bundle!" at school and everyone crushed the poor bastard at the bottom of the pile till he couldn't breathe? That's what happens when there's a new HYS question. It's kind of already happened by the time the itchy-fingered bigots have piled on via their keyboards. Any halfway reasonable voices are already behind the curve.
This has been coming for a long time. I don't know what the solution really is, but it's not like today's question came out of the blue. I feel sorry for those people firefighting with the HYS moderation, because it must be a tough job - like those people who screen out the slightly more ripe contributors from radio phone-ins or stop complete lunacy from appearing in newspaper and magazine letters pages. But HYS is like a phone-in where quite a lot of the nutcases have been allowed on air, or a letters page where the green crayon submissions have been waved through. It doesn't quite work at being balanced, or representative of the readership.
There's also the issue of the BBC brand. Is it enhanced by such bigoted and offensive views being broadcast, all in the name of lively debate? Do we learn anything from these discussions? Or are they all too often being taken over by people with a particular type of mindset? If so, is that such a good thing, or are our tax pounds - which I happily contribute to the wonderful and generally sparkling BBC - being used to fund a misleadingly unrepresentative broadcast of poisonous and offensive opinions? And if that's the case, what is to be done?
*update* Now the title of the debate has been changed to "Should Uganda debate gay execution?"