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Argus editor gets tough on insults and obscenities posted online under 'freedom of speech agenda'

South Wales Argus editor Gerry Keighley is taking action to put a stop to “personal insults” and “disguised obscenities” posted as comments to stories on his paper’s website.

The move echoes one made by the Leicester Mercury which last summer stopped people from commenting on its online stories about missing toddler Madeleine McCann. Many comments called for the parents to be prosecuted over the abduction of their daughter.

And now the Argus boss is promising that comments on stories will be deleted from its website if they contain personal insults against individuals.

The paper takes no action when it is criticised because it sees itself as being part of the debate but personal insults – most recently about a photo of a young mum attached to a story – have forced the editor’s hand.

He said: “We’ve reached the point where we have to send a clear message to the minority who are disrupting our websites’ reader interaction facility. They feel they can post insults and disguised obscenities carte blanche under some sort of freedom of speech agenda.

“What they are actually doing is ruining the credibility of our websites and driving serious debaters away.

“I’m quite happy to host the rough and tumble of robust debate on controversial topics, but when we can’t even publish a picture of a young mum without unpleasant people unleashing hurtful comments about her appearance, action has to be taken.

“Media commentators are describing some interactive sites as bear gardens and I don’t want ours to carry such a description.

“We usually remove unpleasant comments anyway but readers often see them before they’re taken off and wonder why we have allowed them. Now we have made it clear that such comments are not welcome and will not be tolerated.”

The following the message has now been posted on the Argus website:

“The South Wales Argus website hosts comments on stories on the basis that we expect readers to respond, if they wish, with civil and rational argument. We do not respond when we are attacked because people have a right to express opinions on our work, whether we think they are fair or not.

“But some contributors seem to think our website gives them a free opportunity to unleash personal insults against individuals. This is unacceptable and, although the site is unmoderated, we will remove such comments at the first possible opportunity.”