I'll have to confess something now which I imagine a lot of people who read this blog may well disagree with, but I'm going to say it anyway.
I can't bear reading Roy Greenslade.
I know I'm supposed to read him and enjoy him, but I can't. Not a bit. Well, I think to be fair there was one thing he wrote this year that was quite interesting for a couple of paragraphs, but reading his usual output, to me, is a bit like plodding through a muddy field in high heels - awkward, embarrassing and demoralising, particularly if your dad happens to be driving past.
I can't adequately explain why I should feel this way and I'm sure he's a lovely man who, to most other people interested in the media, is a riveting read. Maybe he's just a much more successful and remunerated version of someone doing the kind of things I do, yet doing them much more articulately and more precisely, with less swearing, and that annoys me. That could be it, but I don't think so.
But reader, I have to tell you that given a choice between Greenslade and, oh I don't know, Clarkson, I'd go for Clarkson every time. I'm bound to agree with most things Greenslade says and disagree with most things Clarkson says; but I know who I'd rather read - Clarkson's words spark off the page and get your brain working - often to think "What the hell do you think you're saying, you donut? But that other thing you said did make me laugh, you naughty little guilty pleasure, you" - while Greenslade's make me feel like repainting the banisters instead. Sad but true, and like I say it's probably jealousy or something. But anyway, I needed to get that off my chest. Don't judge me.
Today, Greenslade ponders the Twitterstorms that have happened this year, with particular reference to the Jan Moir incident. Go there and read it if you must - I'll see you in a few hours' time, and don't blame me if you find yourself with your face in the keyboard, lightly moistened by drool that's lazily slobbered out of your mouth in your narcoleptic state.
Anyway, while I can kind of see some of the points he makes - that Twitterstorms aren't really that marvellous at effecting a great deal of change, and are going to lose their impact over time - I can't agree entirely. I think that the Jan Moir episode was a splendid reaction to being spoonfed the same sort of bollocks repeatedly by the mainstream media time and time again, and having things said that were just plain nasty and beyond the pale. It's a similar case when you look at what happened with the 'Should homosexuals be executed?' discussion on the BBC's Have Your say website. It's not a case of saying: "I don't think anyone should discuss this" - it's a case of asking: Why do you think it's a good idea? Why do you choose to host such poisonous views?
Let me explain a little more clearly - probably less clearly (this won't do my slagging-off of Greenslade any good, if I end up being even less interesting than him; it'll kind of make me look silly. But I'll press on anyway). If you owned a pub, and you found out that that nice group of lads who held a meeting upstairs every week were actually BNP, would you be happy for that to carry on? You might well. But you might not, and it would be your decision as to whether they met there or not. They couldn't say to you: "Wurrrrgh, freedom of speech mate, you've got to let us, or you're a fascist, though hang on a minute, that's something we aspire to, shit, haven't thought this through properly, bugger..." - or they might say exactly that, who knows? The point is, it's your decision. Society at large says you can't, for example, refuse to serve black people into your public bar; but you can do whatever you like with your own space. And it's the ownership and the publicness of the space that I'm talking about.
True freedom to say whatever you want without consequences doesn't really exist, and nor should it in every circumstance. (If you think that's a horrendous thing for a liberal to say, then you won't mind me popping this letter in the post to your boss, next-door neighbour and children's school, saying that you're a convicted paedophile, will you.) There's a balancing act when you're dealing with media with thousands and millions of viewers and readers; there's an implicit responsibility not to offend unless it's in the public interest, and not to offend at all in certain circumstances.
Which brings me to the Gately story. Now his partner has complained to the PCC, this does change things slightly. Whereas before the 25,000 complaints could be summarily dismissed with a pat on our heads and a "Sorry, you just don't understand what the clever adults are up to". They must take it seriously - and how they deal with it will determine what kind of PCC we have. I'm fairly sure what kind of PCC we have, but I'll reserve judgement on this particular occasion until they've decided.
A couple of things need to be added to the Moir story to bring it up to date. Firstly, one of the Sunday red-tops (and I forget which) carried an interview with the other person who was in the holiday home the night Gately died, giving fairly intimate details of the kind of thing which, he claims, went on. Secondly, Stephen Glover wrote in the Mail that that story therefore validated everything Jan Moir had said. I didn't link to it at the time because I didn't want the cunt to get any meagre dribble-through of traffic from here, as he didn't deserve a single page impression, let alone the 25-odd extra he'd have got. Incidentally, at around this time, the Mail refused to give a quote to Gay Times on a story they were running about the Moir debacle, using the defence that the PCC complaint was still going on - funny that didn't seem to matter when Glover sharpened his pencil (or had his butler do it).
But Glover was wrong, and it's worth reiterating a couple of things. Firstly, we have only this one person's view that that's what happened on the fateful night. You might say "Why hasn't Andrew Cowles sued him?" and I'd say "Oh, I don't know, something about being recently bereaved and not wanting lurid accusations to be thrown around in court, something like that". So you have to bear that in mind. But secondly, and most importantly, it still doesn't matter, even if there was a massive gay orgy going on in that holiday home on that night, with dozens of people involved and all sorts of spectacularly filthy things going on: that still doesn't make it right for Moir to have written what she wrote, when she wrote it, being nasty, saying his death was 'not a natural one by any yardstick', not waiting for the corpse to get cold, calling into doubt the involvement of drugs in the death - that was all wrong. Factually incorrect in the case of the doubts about the death, and just plain nasty in the case of the lurid speculation.
Should she be prevented from writing that kind of thing? If it's factually incorrect, then yes. For the nastiness, I don't think so - but if it offends a lot of people, you'd better have a bloody good public interest argument as to why you did it; and if it offends a person directly connected, then you're really in trouble unless you are terrifically sure that what you wrote benefits the wider reading population. Otherwise you end up looking like a pretty vile and malicious individual who has hurt someone at a time of great stress and grief, just to make a bitchy comment or two. Is that all right? My freedom of speech instincts (much as I'll be accused by my usual trolling friends of not having them) begrudgingly say yes, but I wonder how much damage can be done to a brand by causing such widespread offence. Maybe the Mail loved all the attention and hoped it would all die down, which it hasn't. Maybe they don't get it. Maybe they get it and don't care. Who knows.
But as ever with these things, we keep coming back to Trafigura, another Twitterstorm this year. As I wrote the other day, the BBC have taken down an article about Trafigura and toxic waste dumping under huge financial and legal pressure. If you're rich enough to afford top libel lawyers rather than go through the PCC process, you're in a much stronger position. As ever, it's money that really talks when it comes to 'freedom of speech'.
On the one hand, you have people genuinely fighting for the freedom to report, who are being squashed by the libel system and huge corporations who have knowingly poisoned people; on the other, the feeble-minded bastards who do nothing more than say offensive, vicious and disgusting things hide behind the 'freedom of speech' defence and demand the right to be heard without any consequences whatsoever.
Something strikes me about this as being a little bizarre. If we are to have free speech (within certain parameters, and balancing it within the right to privacy) then let's really have it. Otherwise, can we sort out the real bullies and real enemies to freedom before we go around protecting the rights of people like Jan Moir to be vacuous and offensive?