An editor has defended his decision not to remove comments on a story despite police claims that it had “created a platform for racial hatred.”
The story attracted more than 100 comments from readers – some of which praised the attack – prompting a local police chief to suggest the comments facility on the story should be removed.
But Guardian editor Andy Parkes has accused the police of intimidation and branded the move as a “disgraceful and direct attack on free speech.”
Writing in his regular column for the Guardian, Andy said the police had accused his newspapers of “creating a platform for racial hatred.”
He also claimed that he had been told the paper was under investigation for publishing the comments, although the Metropolitan Police has denied this.
Said Andy: “For the police to seek to intimidate publishers to remove lawful, honest opinion from their readers is disgraceful and a direct attack upon free speech. They appear to be confusing police work with the enforcement of political correctness.
“Seeking to control the media in this way and either banning or controlling what people can say would be more at home in countries like Russia or Thailand.
“The story was balanced and included comments from the Met and TellMAMA, where anti-Muslim abuse can be reported.
“We have a strict website policy for comments and anything complained about which breaks the policy is deleted. Though in this instance, we received no complaints from readers.”
A spokesperson for the Metropolitan Police said: “The Sutton Guardian newspaper is not and has not been under investigation.
“There was concern from local police that some of the comments under the article “could” constitute a public order offence and asked the editor to “consider” if the platform for comments NOT the story should be removed. He DID NOT order the comments to be closed.
“He made all this clear in a personal email to the editor and also that it was a recommendation only whilst the comments were reviewed by a detective and the review was not one of the Sutton Guardian but rather of the comments by individuals.
“To equate this to state control of the media is a gross misrepresentation and insulting.
“The Metropolitan Police encourages its local officers to have a professional and constructive relationship with its local newspapers so they don’t have to just rely on centrally released statements and can discuss local issues with local officers.
“The local media play a vital role in helping the police to fight crime and hold the police accountable for their actions. We want a professional and constructive relationship and at times there will be tensions. However to misrepresent our actions to such an extent is unhelpful.”
In response, Andy told HTFP: “The borough commander contacted the newsdesk on June 7 and informed the Sutton Guardian it would be investigated in relation to a story it had published about a vandalism attack on a mosque. No specific comment on the story was complained of, but a request was made to remove the ability to comment on the story.
“The Sutton Guardian was informed it had overstepped the mark and provided a platform where comments had been made which could amount to offences under the public order act. I would welcome the opportunity to have a professional and constructive relationship with local police.”