It’s a funny old world. I have now been contacted by two journalists informing me that Bedfordshire Police are investigating The Spectator. Why? Because of the Melanie Philips blog where she referred to the “moral depravity” of “the Arabs” who killed the Fogel family in Israel. CoffeeHousers can judge for themselves if they agree or disagree with her language and views – but should this be illegal? The Guardian has written this story up, claiming The Spectator is being investigated by the Press Complaints Commission. This is untrue. The PCC tell me that a complaint has been lodged, but that’s as far as it has gone. They investigate only if they believe there is a serious prospect that their code has been breached, and it hasn’t. Our blogs, as well as the magazine, adhere to the PCC code.
But all this raises an interesting point about freedom of speech. It baffles me why the Bedfordshire Police – who presumably have plenty real crime to solve – should have to sit down with a print-out of Melanie Philips’ blog and decide whether to prosecute The Spectator for printing her remarks. It’s not their fault: laws have been passed which means that (for example) Tony Blair faced a six-month investigation from the North Wales Police when they read in Lance Price’s memoirs that he had been rude about the Welsh. In a way, I felt Blair deserved it – because it was under him that such daft laws crept their way into the system. Under him that Britain started to become a country where people are prosecuted for what they say, rather than what they do.
Just over a year ago, the Crown Prosecution Service put out a statement saying that they had decided, on balance, not to prosecute Jan Moir for her remarks about Stephen Gately. This again conjured up another mental image: of CPS officials, all bent over a page of the Daily Mail and working out whether the author should be put in jail. Again, think of the other crimes going on in Britain – the other demands on the CPS time. How did we get to this point? The Bedfordshire Police are not expected to be a local Stasi. Last time I checked, this is not East Germany. To me, the idea of being imprisoned for what you say, or what you tweet, is deeply sinister. And one which should raise more protest than it does.
The Spectator is in the firing line quite a lot because we are in the business of serving up cask strength opinion – and have been for 183 years. We hire brilliant columnists, and give them freedom to say what they want. We were rude about the Tolpuddle Martyrs, we offended people calling for the decriminalization of homosexuality in 1957 (ten years before it happened), hardly an issue goes by without some kind of controversy. We don’t sanitise, or homogenise. It is our columnists’ honesty that gives their articles force. When I meet readers, I head one plea more than any others: “don’t tone down Rod”.
We are proud to be associated with columnists of the intelligence and eloquence of Rod Liddle, Matthew Parris, Taki and far, far more. When Jan Moir was in trouble, Matthew Parris rode to her defence in The Spectator – you don’t have to agree with what she wrote to defend her right to say what she thinks. This is a British liberty. We are proud to have the greatest stable of bloggers of anywhere, and proud that Melanie Philips is one of them. Those who find her opinions not to their taste have the option of not reading her blog.
The last piece Melanie wrote for the magazine was about the freedom of speech. I recommend it to CoffeeHousers. We have no First Amendment protection in this country, and we’re suffering from it. Freedom of expression under attack in Britain, from our notorious libel laws to this new phenomenon of police forces being asked to investigate what people put on their blogs.
PS: The last time we really bowdlerised a Taki column was five years ago – he was telling tales about the depravity of one Jeffrey Epstein. And how true that story turned out to be.
PPS: CoffeeHousers should go easy on the Bedfordshire Police, they have probably filed this complaint in the same drawer as UFO sightings. But it’s interesting to see how easily the media is manipulated. Here’s how it goes:
1) Inayat Bunglawala, chair of Muslims4UK, gets angry about what he reads on Melanie’s blog.
2) Complains to the PCC.
3) Complains to the police.
4) Phones up The Guardian and says “The PCC are investigating The Spectator!! Story!! Police too!!
5) The Guardian duly writes it all up, on its website.
6) The Independent follows up The Guardian.
7) An inverted pyramid of piffle is thus constructed.