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Dyson at Large: Readers with extreme views should be ‘banned’

Back in the early 1990s, Ian Dowell – editor of what was then the Birmingham Evening Mail – took a phone call from a ‘green ink’ letter-writing reader.

You know the type I’m referring to: those with seething, extreme opinions that they demand to be reflected in their local newspaper.

I cannot remember the exact subject, but suffice it to say that however much Dowellie tried to be polite and reasonable in explaining why the letter would not be published, the more offensive, loud and expletive-ridden the reader’s tirade became.

The first us reporters knew about it was when Dowellie, by now pretty annoyed, started marching up and down his office, I think kicking a bin and certainly throwing random papers around in frustration.

Finally, with his office door wide open, we heard his closing words as he slammed the phone down:

“Sir, let me tell you my final decision on this matter. You are now BANNED from EVER buying the Evening Mail again.”

It was rare but memorable moment, and it came to mind when I read last week’s story on HoldtheFrontPage about the Manchester Evening News, the Liverpool Echo and The Journal, Newcastle, coming off the fence to tell readers why they should vote ‘Remain’ in tomorrow’s EU referendum.

Journalfront

I liked the front pages, but what I really admired was the response of the MEN when its stance was criticised on Facebook by some Brexit-focused readers:

“The decision to support remain is an independent one. No one is forcing us to, and no one has paid us to do it … Lots of people have pointed out we ‘are backing the losing side’. We don’t know that – but it wouldn’t change our views if we were.”

Well said. When the worst of the national press is so intent on whipping up hateful frenzies, it’s time for strong regional editors to air a more rational voice – even if this is counter-intuitive to some readers.

A good regional should on occasion challenge ‘public opinion’, especially when such opinion is threatening to become a bandwagon of Little Englanders reacting to certain politicians spouting 2016 versions of Enoch Powell’s ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech.

For that reason alone – Enoch’s infamous speech back in 1968 was delivered in Birmingham – I was pleased to see the Birmingham Mail follow its Trinity Mirror sister titles with its own ‘REMAIN’ front page on Monday.

Yes, the Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle and Birmingham papers risk annoying some readers, as was pointed out by various HoldtheFrontPage commenters, including Steve Hutchings, of Exeter, who said: “Absolutely foolhardy in my view. At a stroke they have alienated half their readers. A wise move in an era of declining newspaper circulations? I think not!”

But I think that annoyance – for most – will pass after tomorrow, especially because the regionals involved were so calm and careful with the language in their editorials, trying to provoke intelligent thought rather than just cheering on an enraged mass in the repugnant style of The Sun.

And if there are a few fully paid-up UKIP members or other far-right readers who continue to phone the editors concerned, screaming and shouting their outrage, you know should happen, don’t you?

Yep, do a Dowellie: ban any out-and-out extremists from ever buying the paper again. Now that would make a good splash.

▪Talking of good splashes, didn’t you just love Algemeen Dagblad’s Union Jack front page last Wednesday?

‘Don’t leave me this way’ pleaded the Dutch newspaper, prompting anyone who was a teenager in the 1980s to start singing The Communards’ cover of the old hit.

This headline was followed by a sentimental subheading in the centre of the flag that translated something like: ‘The British can be a right pain, but we don’t want to be and can’t do without them.’ Quite.

11 comments

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  • June 22, 2016 at 11:25 am
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    To save people reading this article I’ll summarise – “how dare the plebs have an opinion!”

    The ONS says London’s population will rise by 14 per cent in the next eight years. In Tower Hamlets it’ll go up by a quarter. You don’t have to be “extreme” to see we are heading for some pretty serious issues.

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  • June 22, 2016 at 12:22 pm
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    One man’s extreme view is another man’s truth…but if they are rude to you, that’s another matter. Just show them the office door.
    Media coverage of the Euro debate has been from a rather narrow perspective.
    Will there be a need for the English monarchy in the new Europe?
    The new European army, will it try and resist Russia in Ukraine and Georgia? Will we re-introduce conscription?
    Would Britain need to let so many refugees in if it wasn’t carrying out covert military action all the time in the Islamic world?
    Nato’s kept the peace…but Nato’s countries have been involved in scores of wars since 1945.
    None of these issues are discussed by the timid regional press.

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  • June 22, 2016 at 12:37 pm
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    Thanks, Kendo … my blog wasn’t supposed to suggest there can’t be debate, passionate debate even. And your ONS argument is a great example. And yes to strong opinions. But the limit is when this turns into what I’ve described as the ‘Rivers of Blood’-style extremism, and you’ll see this in some really awful terms in the comments on this subject on the mentioned papers’ websites, eg: see Birmingham Mail comments under the editorial for ‘Remain’. I think you’ll agree that too much of it goes beyond rational, passionate argument. In fact, much of it’s neo-illegal! And that’s where editors can and should stand firm.

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  • June 22, 2016 at 12:42 pm
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    Very poor summary Kendo. I’d stick to wrestling if I were you.

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  • June 22, 2016 at 2:30 pm
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    More Trinity Mirror Lefty nonsense.

    Strange that one of the most rapacious exploiters of capitalism in the UK publishing business should try to keep up the hilarious pretence that it has a caring socialist heart.

    I mean TM, of course, not you personally Steve.

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  • June 22, 2016 at 2:32 pm
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    I think it’s just lucky that all the major papers backing Remain so far – that have featured on HTFP – have been part of the TrinityMirror group… whose national newspaper is for Remain. I’m sure this is pure coincidence.

    And no offence to these papers but in most cases I wouldn’t listen to their views about the local council let alone on such an important issue as this.

    Finally, the debate is very finely split and along very passionate grounds, I’m all robust papers but if you think that alienating nearly half your readership over something that you really didn’t need to make a call on then… great, let’s hope they don’t vote with their feet.

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  • June 22, 2016 at 3:17 pm
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    You don’t think that the editors of these fairly influential papers might have been ‘encouraged’ by T-M to toe the company line?

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  • June 22, 2016 at 4:28 pm
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    I enjoy conspiracy theories, but they almost always have no factual basis. Believe you me that I would love to find that TM had concocted all these campaigns, but I don’t believe that to be the case. Why? Firstly, I know several of the editors involved, and don’t think they would allow to be positioned in such a way. Secondly, if what you say is true, then why haven’t other TM titles done the same? Eg, Coventry, Huddersfield, Cardiff, Derby, Leicester, Nottingham, etc. While TM – as with all publishers – is slimming resources, including at editor level, I know that one of the most important parts of TM’s editorial protocol is the editor’s independence. I don’t know quite why I’m speaking up for the company in that way, but there you go. My thoughts based on my knowledge.

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  • June 22, 2016 at 9:07 pm
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    “When the worst of the national press is so intent on whipping up hateful frenzies”

    Steve: When people attack the tabloids what they are usually doing is attacking their working class readers – it’s just that they don’t have the guts to do it openly. ‘Progressives’ have a mindset that working class people (or the “enraged mass” as you call them) cannot think for themselves. They are animals who must be lead like cattle towards enlightenment by nice, rational middle-class people. The “enraged mass” are not as stupid as they look, however. They know exactly what you are.

    Alan: I’m sure the news that flats for rich outsiders are going to be built in a borough with a housing waiting list of 20,000 will have the locals dancing for joy. But of course the issues of population size and freedom of movement are utterly unrelated, aren’t they?

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  • June 23, 2016 at 3:36 pm
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    Hi Kendo. I agree with you about the mismatch between the type/cost of housing being built and the needs of the borough. My point remains a) why is population growth in itself bad, especially when it is just returning to historical levels and b) what has this got to do with the EU when the proportion of Tower Hamlets population growth from non-UK EU citizens is quite low? Or did I miss something and EU is responsible for immigration from Bangladesh, China/HK and Australia?

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