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Sunday, March 05, 2006

Overstepping the mark

The Assembly's Equal Opportunities Committee has taken up the cudgels over Lowri Turner's outrageously homophobic article in which she wrote that gay men do not make good party leaders as their lifestyles are "too divorced from the norm". It seems that they want the Western Mail editor to justify his decision to publish the column.

Committe Chair, Gwenda Thomas, is quoted as saying that "the freedom of the press to publish personal views carried a "responsibility" which had been "clearly overstepped".

She added: "Homophobia, together with all other forms of prejudice, is unacceptable in any modern, democratic, civilised society, and it is therefore disappointing to say the least that an article that promotes such attitudes appeared in a newspaper that purports to be 'the national newspaper for Wales'."

At the time the article was published I was fairly scathing of the views that were expressed therein. However, I think that I would draw the line at seeking to censor the columnist concerned. The freedom of newspapers to publish controversial views should not be constrained by what politicians believe are the editor's responsibilities. That is a very dangerous path indeed.

I can certainly share Gwenda Thomas' disappointment and her anger but ultimately it is for the editor to decide what goes into his newspaper and how he responds to the very valid criticisms that may follow.
Not sure whether or not this was an action agreed by the Committee or between it's party spokespeople, or by Gwenda in her own capacity. No-one however is suggesting the Assembly is censoring the act publication of the article, simply expressing legitimate disapproval of its offensive, homophobic, implications.
I just commented on the words as quoted. If they were misquoted then naturally I will reconsider my view.
As you will no doubt be aware Peter, the Assembly has a statutory duty to promote equality of opportunity. Thanks to Gwenda, Jane Hutt and others, the Assembly commission and WAG will still have this duty once the new Government of Wales bill is enacted, because a certain Lord of the Realm wanted the obligation removed from the new Act.

As you will also be aware, the EO committee is the only Assembly committee with standing invitees as expert members of the committee, and they are Stonewall Cymru, the EOC, DRC and the Welsh Language Board. Taking that fact into consideration, I’m more than happy to accept any arguments made by that committee, not only because it has an excellent Chair, but because it also has members on it who are experts in Equality policy and law.

I personally thought the comments made by Lowri Turner were disgraceful, and I fully support the letter sent to the Western Mail by the EO committee. If those comments had been regarding black or ethnic minority people, or any other “minority”, would you take the same view as you take on comments directed at gay and bisexual men? If were to say in a column that I’d rather not have a Scouser running the country, would you support my right to say that? Or would you find it offensive?

Yes, I agree, it is for the Editor to decide what does and does not go in his paper. For example, he is unwilling to publish a letter I sent in responding to Llew Smith’s misleading comments on the nuclear proliferation treaty. But, I cannot understand why both he, and the Chief Executive of Trinity Mirror, will not come to the Assembly to explain to the EO committee why they thought it was acceptable to print comments that would cause offence to the GLB community.

It is also quite disappointing that the lady herself is unwilling to justify her comments. It just shows how weak and petty these people are, when they are quite willing to voice homophobic statements in print, but don’t have the guts to say it in public.
Does this mean we can look forward to the Assembly expressing its disapproval of, and removing funding from, any organisation that supports, for example, Sharia law?
Martyn, I do not disagree with most of what you say. As you will know from the posts on this blog I found Lowri Turner's remarks offensive as well and have signed a statement of opinion to that effect. I have no problem with the EOC asking for her and her editor to come and answer questions on the article but I do defend their right to refuse. Equally, I cannot subscribe to any attempt to censor them or take away their right to be obnoxious. After all we live in a mature democracy where we can disagree with each other and debate these issues. People will make up their own minds on the merits of the case and I am confident that my (and your) view will prevail. I may find these things offensive but that does not mean that I will seek to prevent them saying it.

David, you will have to direct your question to the Equal Opportunities Committee.
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