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Journalist turned politician fired from weekly he founded in free speech row

A journalist who later became a government minister under Tony Blair has been sacked as a columnist from a weekly newspaper he helped found in a row over free speech.

Brian Wilson, who was the first editor of the West Highland Free Press in 1972 before serving as Energy Minister in the 1990s, was dismissed after coming to the defence of fellow columnist Donald Macleod, who had written a piece referencing the rise of Islam in the UK.

Donald, a Free Church professor of theology, will no longer contribute to the newspaper after writing a piece in May about the growth of Islamic influence in Britain which also drew parallels with the rise of Nazism in Germany in the 1930s.

Last week Brian, pictured above, wrote a piece in support of Donald, who had written for the Free Press for the past 24 years.

Donald wrote: “All minorities prefer to keep a low profile and avoid trouble. Generations of British Muslims have done exactly that, many have made an invaluable contribution to British society, and many are perfectly prepared to listen quietly while Christians ‘witness’ to them.

“But when minorities become majorities, things change … in the event of Islamic dominance in Britain our friendly Muslim shopkeepers will have little option but to march behind the radicals.”

Brian, who has written for the title for much of its 43 year history, said that Donald’s piece had taken a “long view of history” and led on to wider questions about Islamic influence within Europe, including implications for democracy and freedom.

He said that not everyone could have been expected to agree with Donald, but the established way of expressing dissent was to publish letters, and three had appeared in the Free Press.

Brian wrote: “Unfortunately, it did not end there and as a result of whatever else transpired, Donald concluded he should no longer contribute his column.”

Brian has now been sacked while another columnist, Maggie Cunningham, has since said she will no longer write for the Free Press.

After it emerged that Brian had been told his contributions were no longer required, Donald said: “I don’t really have anything to say apart from that I am upset for Brian, he has paid this price for supporting me.”

Mr Macleod’s son John, who is also a newspaper journalist, wrote on Facebook: “As if effectively firing my father from his weekly West Highland Free Press column wasn’t enough, the paper has today fired founder Brian Wilson for HIS column last week defending him!!!”

In a statement, the Free Press said: “We note there has been some speculation around Professor Donald Macleod and founding editor Brian Wilson no longer writing columns for the West Highland Free Press and confirm they will both be no longer writing for us.

“We thank both Brian Wilson and Professor Macleod for their immense contribution to the paper over many years.

“They have rightly earned their reputation as erudite, passionate and respected writers and their regular offerings in the West Highland Free Press will be missed by some readers. Further than this, we have no comment to make.”

In 2009, the newspaper became the first in the country to be owned by its employees.

8 comments

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  • July 13, 2015 at 9:49 am
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    Suspect this unseemly – and rather sad – row could have been averted, had the paper’s letters page editor either fully read Mr Macleod’s inflammatory contribution, or understood how readers (and other columnists, staff, advertisers, etc etc) might react.
    I’d expect to see the below in a UKIP publication … or maybe as a ‘guest contributor’ slot in the KKK’s house mag, but not in the Highland Free Press.

    “in the event of Islamic dominance in Britain our friendly Muslim shopkeepers will have little option but to march behind the radicals.”

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  • July 13, 2015 at 10:38 am
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    Racism etc is always worst in the whitest, most remote areas!

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  • July 13, 2015 at 10:41 am
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    Hang on, they both ‘sacked’ after their columns had appeared… how did they get published then…? Did no one read them beforehand? Were they just copied and pasted into the page? Oh. Right. That’d be it then.

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  • July 13, 2015 at 10:55 am
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    Is the Free Press dying in Britan ? What can you expect from Asian and other countries, if the mother of Free Press is treating Journallists in this fashion.

    But still there are periosn who would risk their Bread and Butter in any countries for the Free Press.

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  • July 13, 2015 at 11:30 am
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    “in the event of Islamic dominance in Britain our friendly Muslim shopkeepers will have little option but to march behind the radicals.”

    I take it this Donald Macleod is an educated chap, so it’s disappointing to see how wrong he is here. If he took even a cursory look at Muslim majority countries he’d see plenty of Muslims who are doing the exact opposite of “marching behind the radicals”. They are bravely taking on the militants/terrorists and getting little or no recognition and support in the Western world for doing so. Don’t take it from me, read: “Your Fatwa Does Not Apply Here” by Karima Bennoune.

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  • July 13, 2015 at 3:55 pm
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    Look at what has been happening in Tower Hamlets and other areas before dismissing these gentlemen’s comments out of hand.

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  • July 13, 2015 at 7:43 pm
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    Memo to L.B. Senaratne: Sorry to disappoint you, but Britain has never been the mother, father, aunt or even distant cousin of a free press.
    This land has always liked to boast of its freedoms, but draconian libel laws, D Notices, court injunctions and the like have kept the press in bondage for generations, with the law working on behalf of the establishment. I’m sure you will also have heard of the Leveson Inquiry, which sought to strangle free speech even more while our soldiers were dying for ‘freedom’ in other lands.
    Britain also likes to boast of ‘fair play’, but is the most class bound society in the western world, where accident of birth still determines your future. Time to get real, Mr S.

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  • July 14, 2015 at 9:58 am
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    Well said, Brassington!
    I would also add that the regional press is even less free that it was because today it is owned more than ever by monopoly newspaper groups in which editorial policy decisions are in the hands of far fewer people.
    Family owned newspapers in the old days were often idiosyncratic, but at least their owners usually lived in the communities they served and took an interest in what went on. This was reflected in their column content…and excellent circulations.
    The modern corporate concept with shareholders living in North America is rubbish, it just doesn’t work.
    Newspapers that aren’t local are like fish trying to swim out of water.
    .

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