This week, one of our local papers, the News Shopper, chose to give the prize winning "star letter" award, to this bizarre homophobic rant by one of its Lewisham readers.
It is reasonable to assume that the News Shopper editorial staff don't actually agree with the views in the letter, but by giving it star status, they gave the impression that they did. Local blogger Daryl Chamberlain challenged them on their decision and speculated pretty convincingly about why they might have done this.
At the time, we thought it was a gross error of judgement by the News Shopper, but a forgiveable one, especially at an understaffed newspaper. We all make mistakes. However, the News Shopper's response to the criticism was abject, instead of contrition, they offered sarcasm and retweeted the one or two tweets of support they got (as opposed to the mountain of critical ones they received). Londonist has a good account of the early exchanges. This behaviour is not forgiveable, in our view. But even then, we probably wouldn't have waded in to the argument, were it not for the fact that one of the few people to leap to the Shopper's defence, was Lewisham Central Councillor, Mike Harris, who wrote:
The idea that my local paper the @NewsShopper should not publish a letter because it's bigoted, is far more offensive than the letter itself... No2censorship!
In doing so, the self-proclaimed campaigner for Index on Censorship, demonstrated a complete lack of understanding of what censorship and advocated the sort of balanced debate you can find on Fox News.
Giving someone an unchallenged platform to abuse gay people and awarding them a prize is not exercising freedom of speech, it's an abuse of power. No one is asking for these views to be "brushed under the carpet" or imagining that they will go away if we don't talk about them. We are asking that the foam-flecked homophobia not be actively celebrated.
To borrow a phrase from Cllr Harris, his defence of the News Shopper's decision is far more offensive than the letter itself.