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The right to say 'no comment'

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The right to say 'no comment'

Post by Guest on Sat Sep 17, 2011 2:35 pm

The right to say 'no comment' .

Saturday, September 17, 2011 Leicester Mercury

A story about Madeleine McCann was published on our website last Friday. It was only eight paragraphs long and merely reported that British detectives who are investigating the case had travelled to Portugal for meetings with the Portuguese authorities. In the print version in the Mercury, the story made a short piece on page eight.

However, what was a relatively routine article received a disproportionately large number of comments from online readers.


.In fact, the 26 messages placed on the story made it one of the most commented-on stories in the Mercury that day.

The reason for this disproportionate interest is because there are a number of people who are hostile to the McCanns and vent their opinions online, if given the opportunity to do so. For this reason, we usually bar the comment facility on any story connected with this family.

On this occasion, this article slipped through the net and people were able to leave messages.

Not all of them were hostile. Some people had gone on to the site to remonstrate with those making critical remarks.

One said: "The McCanns don't need comments like this and the LM should remove the comment facility as they usually do on this story."

As soon as we became aware of the situation, we did exactly that.

We have also taken some further steps to try to guard against it happening again.

I am raising the matter here, however, to explain why we follow this policy at all. Indeed, there is a view, generally held by those hostile to the McCanns, that our stance runs against the principle of freedom of speech and that they should be able to air their opinions on this matter.

The first issue here is a legal one. Some of the discussion around the Madeleine McCann case tends to stray into the area of defamation. Indeed, the McCanns have successfully sued several national newspapers for libel.

However, the law around internet discussion forums means our responsibility to remove libellous remarks only begins when somebody complains to us about a particular comment.

Nobody did so in this case, we took the decision to remove the comments unilaterally.

In any event, most of the remarks which were left were not libellous. Some of them were, in my opinion, very harsh and lacking in compassion, but that is, of course, not a legal issue at all.

What this is more about then is an editorial judgement, rather than one driven by the obligations of the law.

It is certainly true that we regard the principle of freedom of speech as an important one.

We create forums in the print version of the newspaper and on our website to enable readers to air their views. Sometimes, that discussion is extremely robust and occasionally people are offended by things that are said.

There are certain subjects where comment is likely to upset people.

Topics such as religious faith and immigration, for instance, are highly sensitive, but they are also important areas of public discussion, and we want to allow this to run as freely as possible.

There is a well-known observation that freedom of speech means the freedom to offend.

However, the principle of freedom of speech is not the only thing which we have to consider as a newspaper.

We have to balance it against other considerations, such as taste, fairness, decency and courtesy.

For instance, we would not publish a letter about immigration that we felt was racist (there is a legal implication here as well) or one about religious faith which was just insulting. Similarly, we would not print a letter that was obscene, or in poor taste, or which contained abuse.

Balancing freedom of speech against these other considerations is quite a tough call and we constantly wrestle with establishing that line.

Discussion forums online are a little different in that we usually only remove comments when they are reported to us.

We do not actively monitor messages left on our website. However, we still apply the same considerations when complaints are made.

What I have talked about so far relates to discussions around general issues of public importance.

The issue of freedom of speech becomes more difficult when it involves criticisms made against specific individuals.

It is obviously hurtful to see oneself attacked in print or online. There is, therefore, a greater weight upon us to consider things like fairness and courtesy.

Some individuals are more likely to attract criticism than others. Politicians are the obvious example. They are people with a high public profile who are making decisions which affect our lives.

I do not agree they are "fair game" as some commentators tend to assert. They are, in my view, entitled to a private life free from unwarranted intrusion and they are entitled also to respect.

However, politicians have to expect to be scrutinised and discussed and criticised, and that goes with the territory.

When the individuals concerned, however, are ordinary members of the public, who have suffered a terrible personal tragedy in their lives, the need to show them fairness, courtesy and respect is obviously much greater still.

In fact, I think the responsibility upon us in such cases is so greatly weighted towards the individuals concerned that it actually becomes very easy to establish the line between common decency and freedom of expression. In these circumstances, the former clearly outweighs the latter.

And I do not really accept there is any genuine issue of civil liberty at all.

There is no great public importance in allowing the criticism of people in this position. It is freedom of speech simply for the sake of freedom of speech. The ability to make nasty comments about the McCanns, for instance, is not important to our way of life or the future of our society. The only possible wider outcome is to cause further upset to them.

As a newspaper, it is, of course, important to us to uphold the principle of freedom of speech. It is a vital part of our credibility that we carry a range of views and that debate in our pages is lively and vigorous.

However, there are other values which are important to us also, the sort of things I have mentioned above, and which I think our readers also expect us to uphold, particularly as a community newspaper.

If some people feel they have a right to say whatever they like about the McCanns, they are perfectly entitled to find a forum for their views elsewhere.

However, we are not obliged to publish what they say and we will not be doing so.

http://www.thisisleicestershire.co.uk/right-say-comment/story-13350012-detail/story.html

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Re: The right to say 'no comment'

Post by Miraflores on Sat Sep 17, 2011 3:35 pm

Maybe they should stop printing articles about the McCanns then - it's not as though there is any real news.

I would agree with the paper's stance if all the McCanns had done was reported that their child was missing, and then faded from public view.

I suspect that many would feel like I do, that once they started actively soliciting funds to 'find' Madeleine, they took themselves out of the realm of just being individuals entitled to privacy. Coupled with this, there is the constant whinging about how it's everyone elses fault that Madeleine is no longer with them and that no -one is looking for her.

I know that some of the comments can get nasty, but anyone of us who dares to comment that there was no evidence for abduction will quickly be abused as a vile McCann hater but the newspapers seem to find that acceptable.

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Re: The right to say 'no comment'

Post by puzzled on Sat Sep 17, 2011 4:59 pm

The level of support the McCanns get from the press in general is something completely unprecedented, as far as I know. I can't think of any other circumstances in recent years where people in the public eye have been so immune from criticism. As for comments on newspapers' messageboards, I've seen plenty of attacks on well-known public figures, many of them far worse than anything that's been said about the McCanns. I've seen completely outrageous things like Holocaust denial, calls for eugenics, calls for certain groups of people to be shot in the streets, for ethnic minorities to be strung up on lamposts......etc.......etc...... on newspaper comment sections, and they are not removed. But for some reason, when it's the McCann's it's instant censorship.

Why?

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Leicester Mercury

Post by tigger on Sat Sep 17, 2011 5:07 pm

Quote The first issue here is a legal one. Some of the discussion around the Madeleine McCann case tends to stray into the area of defamation. Indeed, the McCanns have successfully sued several national newspapers for libel.unquote


We can skip the rest, they could just have said they can't afford it! LM isn't a national paper so no great loss since they thought 26 messages was quite a lot!

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The right to say no comment

Post by louiseh on Sat Sep 17, 2011 5:22 pm

Why didn't the mercury just say " We are 100% FOR the McCann's, we believe EVERYTHING they say and will support EVERYTHING they do, so why don't you all just go and f*** yourselves. " Because that's EXACTLY what they mean!! I actually think that piece was written for them, and we all know who by.

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Re: The right to say 'no comment'

Post by Marian on Sat Sep 17, 2011 6:22 pm

I would understand the stance of this newspaper if adverse comments were being made on tragic stories about which there was no dispute whatever as to who was responsible - the Soham girls, Sarah Payne, Milly Dowler and James Bulger to name four off the top of my head. However, there is no way on earth that the McCanns' behaviour - and I don't mean simply the nonsense of the regular checks story but everything else they've done - warrants their being treated in the same way.

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Re: The right to say 'no comment'

Post by pauline on Sun Sep 18, 2011 10:32 am

@tigger wrote:Quote The first issue here is a legal one. Some of the discussion around the Madeleine McCann case tends to stray into the area of defamation. Indeed, the McCanns have successfully sued several national newspapers for libel.unquote We can skip the rest, they could just have said they can't afford it! LM isn't a national paper so no great loss since they thought 26 messages was quite a lot!

Tigger, I think you called it as it is.

All newspapers are struggling nowadays, especially smaller regional ones. One successful legal action against them, even for a five figure sum, can be the death blow. remember, apart from the actual damages, the paper would have to pay its own legal costs and more relevantly, C-R's costs. Its easy for internet posters to talk (validly) about freedom of speech but the editor of the paper has the jobs of his workers to consider.

Incidentally, the Irish local paper that printed a review of the book that raised questions other reviews didn't, has not come out since that issue (June 2011). Maybe its a coincidence, maybe the paper is just in financial trouble - or did it get a C-R letter?

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Re: The right to say 'no comment'

Post by Marian on Sun Sep 18, 2011 10:44 am

Pauline: I think that the article in the Irish paper that you mention was quoted somewhere on this site and it was a change from the usual sugar-laden teeth-rotting reviews. If there's any way that you can find out what's happened to the paper it would be very interesting.

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Re: The right to say 'no comment'

Post by Guest on Sun Sep 18, 2011 10:47 am

@pauline wrote: Incidentally, the Irish local paper that printed a review of the book that raised questions other reviews didn't, has not come out since that issue (June 2011). Maybe its a coincidence, maybe the paper is just in financial trouble - or did it get a C-R letter?

Which one, Pauline?

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Re: The right to say 'no comment'

Post by pauline on Sun Sep 18, 2011 10:58 am

Molly wrote:
@pauline wrote: Incidentally, the Irish local paper that printed a review of the book that raised questions other reviews didn't, has not come out since that issue (June 2011). Maybe its a coincidence, maybe the paper is just in financial trouble - or did it get a C-R letter?

Which one, Pauline?


Molly - its called Town and Village and its a free paper distributed in Dublin 4 and Dublin 6. You can read the review online at www.townandvillage.ie June 2011 issue p.17

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Re: The right to say 'no comment'

Post by Invinoveritas on Sun Sep 18, 2011 11:13 am

The Leicester Mercury is owned by the Daily Mail and General Trust plc.:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leicester_Mercury



googling leicester mercury produces interesting results as to circulation, profit, ownership etc.



interestingly enough is that the Trust owns to 50% DMG Australia which have a number of commercial radio stations, guess who owns the rest? Lachlan Murdoch the eldest son of Rupert Murdoch, it´s a small world

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Re: The right to say 'no comment'

Post by Guest on Sun Sep 18, 2011 12:06 pm

thumbup

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Re: The right to say 'no comment'

Post by lj on Sun Sep 18, 2011 1:39 pm

@pauline wrote:
Molly wrote:
@pauline wrote: Incidentally, the Irish local paper that printed a review of the book that raised questions other reviews didn't, has not come out since that issue (June 2011). Maybe its a coincidence, maybe the paper is just in financial trouble - or did it get a C-R letter?

Which one, Pauline?


Molly - its called Town and Village and its a free paper distributed in Dublin 4 and Dublin 6. You can read the review online at www.townandvillage.ie June 2011 issue p.17





It does noy only raises questions, it gives links to some websites full of what the British press calls "trolls"!!

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Irish free paper Town & Village

Post by Guest on Sun Sep 18, 2011 2:03 pm

Assuming that every issue is shown on the website, the paper hasn't been published monthly since the end of 2009. There were four issues throughout 2010 and so far there has only been one for 2011 - perhaps it's only being produced twice a year now?

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Re: The right to say 'no comment'

Post by Guest on Sun Sep 18, 2011 4:31 pm

Yes, Jean, that's very possible. It would be interesting to have the author's view on the media's handling of the McCann case.

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