20 October 2014

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Weekly faces backlash over ‘homosexual sinners’ letter

A weekly newspaper has faced a backlash from readers after publishing a reader’s letter attacking homosexuals.

The Whitstable Times published a letter in last week’s paper under the headline “Take heed, all you homosexual sinners” in which a reader quotes a Bible verse implying homosexuals have “brought evil upon themselves”.

It led to an angry response from readers, with the paper subsequently publishing a series of seven letters online hitting out at the “homophobic” letter and the title for printing it.

The paper has also faced criticism on Twitter and has now told readers there will be two pages of letters in this week’s paper along with a comment from the editor about it.

Editor Rebecca Smith told HTFP: “The letters pages are a place for people to air their views. This letter did represent an extreme view and the headline summarised that view.

“Less than 20 people responded to the letter online or by email. While many of those who did respond were angered at the content, others said that this was a debate they are hearing in forums, such as churches, across the town.

“This letter has stimulated a debate and we will be publishing these views on the letters page.”

The title also published an article last Friday for National Coming Out Day and said this received more page views and retweets than responses to the letter.

In responding to criticism on Twitter, the title said that “people are allowed to express their opinions within the law” and encouraged people to send in letters in response.

The paper tweeted: “The letters page is intended to be a town debating place, and people have strongly held views on many topics. It’s not up to us to censor them unless they are defamatory or illegal. Inciting hatred/violence would be, expressing an opinion is not.”

However a number of readers’ letters have hit out at the “insulting” headline used by the paper.

Jo Frazer wrote: “As it happens I am less offended by the content of his letter (I live in Kent after all and encounter such homophobic views regularly) than I am by your paper’s chosen header.

“Why am I so offended by “Take Heed, all you homosexual sinners?” Well to me it is deliberately designed to be provocative and if it was genuinely innocuous why not apologise instantly for any offence caused.”

Another reader, S Frewin-Clarke, wrote: “Using this as a headline in 2013, shame on you. Whoever the quote was from, this headline jumps out at you, and will fuel the fire of the many ignorant homophobic people who, surprisingly, still exist.

“I will not be reading the Whitstable Times any more, the headline gives a good indication of the views of the editor and staff and although I believe in freedom of speech, I also believe journalists should be intelligent enough to create an article that does not offend.”

The controversial letter, by a Mr D Bryson, said: “The confrontational Stonewall slogan (Some people are gay, get over it) that is currently touring our city, towns and villages via Stagecoach buses has caused me to think and remember what is written by the prophet Isaiah 3-9:

“For the look on their faces bears witness against them; they proclaim their sin like Sodom: they do not hide it. Woe to them! For they have brought evil on themselves.”

17 Comments

  1. Steve Mueller, Essex

    Running the letter itself looks like a misguided bit of space-filling. Putting that headline on it, though, is crass beyond belief.

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  2. Desker

    The letter is moronic, the headline should see the editor go. Sorry I don’t like sackings for the sake of it but whoever put that on clearly has no judgement.

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  3. silver cane, manchester

    Funny, never seen a headlines quite like that.

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  4. Trunky

    I think it’s ok to print letter, but that headline is a big mistake – even if, as I suspect, it was written with tongue in cheek.

    On another note, I find it interesting that these Stonewall ads have been appearing on Stagecoach buses, whose co-founder and chairman is Brian Souter. He obviously doesn’t mind “promoting homosexuality” as long as he’s making money out of it.

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  5. Richard, Lancaster

    I thought the headline was making fun of the letter.

    Whatever it was doing, Mr Bryson is quite entitled to his opinion (fair comment?) and publication of his views has certainly produced a counter reaction.

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  6. Wehadittough

    Doesn’t sound like a letter on a local issue to me. It’s one of those send out to everyone pieces of rubbish that should go straight in the bin…we shouldn’t be that desperate to use such nonsense.

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  7. Drew Cochrane, Scotland

    The editor had every right to print the letter which comes under the category of freedom of speech. Strictly speaking, I would have put the heading in “inverted commas” as it was a quote from the letter writer who, let’s not forget, gave their name.

    When the same sex marriage issue was being debated in Scotland recently we carried both sides of the argument on our letters pages.
    It is quite common for very religious people, who oppose the legislation, to quote old Biblical scripture but, worryingly, it is increasingly common for those, either supporting gay rights or the legislation itself to criticise the paper for daring to use the religious letters.

    It seems to me, as an editor of almost 40 years standing (or is that sitting) that there is very little tolerance among some in the gay community for those who oppose their views.
    Freedom of speech is a bedrock of a newspaper’s role, so the Whitstable Times is doing its job. It also makes for lively reading in the letters columns.

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  8. I'm so right

    What a soppy over-reaction from those who profess to believe in free speech! Sophisticated journalists may swallow the gay rights propaganda, but many ordinary people– the bulk of what’s left of your readers–often think otherwise.
    And why shouldn’t the Whitstable Times publish letters on national topics? I’m sure the good people of that town see more to the world than stories about double yellow lines and dog muck which fill so many columns in weekly papers.

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  9. JP Cost Cut Victim

    The headline got the desired reaction I think, but I have no problem in the letter being published. Those are the words of the letter writer. Rebecca Smith is another one that doesn’t know her ‘less’ from ‘fewer’ in her line of work, so shame on her for that, but more so, her deliberately provocative, bold headline.

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  10. Desker

    As I said I have no problem with them running the letter but the headline on it is very misjudged. If it was designed to mock to the letter writer then it does not come across.

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  11. Sub Mariner

    I think this fiasco is probably not misguided but rather the product of some wage slave bunging stuff through at breakneck speed as the paper almost certainly don’t have enough staff to do the job properly. I also highly suspect the editor didn’t actually read it before publication. Not condemning anyone, I just know what it’s like these days

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  12. RT, Croydon

    Whitstable Times – written from 20 miles away in Margate; subbed 70 miles away in Essex. To echo Sub Mariner’s point, I doubt the editor even looked at this letter despite the attempts to justify it post-publication. The sub who wrote the headline should be squirming though.

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  13. Victoria Tims, Southend

    Once again Freedom of Speech is to be crushed!
    Personally I find it tacky anyway that these signs are placed on buses etc… I am so over it and find this whole topic of conversation completely uninteresting.

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  14. Bluestringer

    An example of “freedom of speech” only being permissible when one agrees with what’s being said.

    Although to be fair, that letter is a bit of a green ink job.

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  15. Offstone Early

    Isn’t is amazing how lefties are so keen to block the views of those who displease them?
    If this was a letter knocking old people or the working class, they would have absolutely nothing to say about it.
    As it is, it offends one of their ‘designer’ causes, so they lash out irrationally.
    People who dislike the homosexual lifestyle – even if they are religious nutjobs – have a right to have their say in a free society.
    It’s only left-wing loons like Ed Miliband who think all our beliefs should be rubber-stamped by New Labour’s thought police.

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  16. Old Hack

    Drew Cochrane x 2

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  17. Just Looking

    Drew Cochrane, Scotland
    October 15, 2013 at 10:07 am
    Strictly speaking, I would have put the heading in “inverted commas” as it was a quote from the letter writer who, let’s not forget, gave their name.

    Get your facts right.
    The newspaper heading isn’t a quote from the letter.
    Surely an editor of 40 years’ standing should have spotted that?

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