Her sin was to look at today’s edition of the paper and observe of the Extinction Rebellion action yesterday “Here's the Mail on Sunday. Absolutely furious about sinister, shameful, dangerous attempt to crush free speech. So, we can take it that this protest was out of order”, but then compare and contrast with Hitchens’ call on an earlier protest.
“Yet in the same issue, we have Peter Hitchens defending the rights of ‘weirdos’ and ‘troublemakers’ to protest after Piers Corbyn was find £10k on basis of a law enacted by edict barely 24 hours beforehand”. Note that she did not tag Hitchens. No matter, he was all-seeing: “in what way is trying to prevent the publication of newspapers which disagree with you or criticise you, *not* an attack on free speech? I'm all ears”.
What say Ms Gerard? “They didn’t try to prevent publication. They disrupted distribution. The material was all published and is freely available. A serious attempt at sabotage or to shut them down would be shameful, dangerous etc. But this is a melodramatic response to a token protest”. She then agreed with him again. “And your points re Corbyn and the covid deniers are exactly right. It’s all about freedom of expression”.
Which was a bit like saying Hello to Derek and Clive. “Shameful evasive bilge [Liz Gerard]. If newspapers aren't distributed, people can't buy or read them. The action also damages their revenue, so making it harder for them to survive independent of the state”. Websites, anyone? Hard to survive? Owned by Murdoch, Rothermere and the Barclays?
Ms Gerard did not agree with him this time. “For one day? Come on! Striking journalists have caused far more disruption to circulation without being accused of threatening press freedom. I have no admiration for ER and think this action is hugely misjudged. But it’s not the end of the world”. Hitch was therefore even more disagreeable. “Who says it is for one day?. If the government locked you in a cell for one day, the point would be that they had the power to do so and used it (and could use it again)”.
So he’ll be watching the Assange case this week and passing adverse comment on his continued incarceration, then? No, thought not. Meanwhile, Ms Gerard applied a little perspective: “For real threats to press freedom, think Charlie Hebdo, Jamal Khashoggi, Lyra McKee, James Foley, Steven Sotloff and other Isis victims”. Quite.
But Hitchens could not be placated. “None of these episodes mean that trying to stop distribution of newspapers XR does not like is any less of an attack on press freedom. Lots of people hate press freedom. There are lots of ways of attacking it. This was one”. Press freedom? If Peter Hitchens wrote that his paper was owned by an offshore tax avoider whose recent antecedents were Nazi sympathisers, he’d soon learn about press freedom.
His freedom to speak in the MoS, and indeed at any other title, would end PDQ. It would make more sense defending press freedom if we really had it. We don’t, so it doesn’t.
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