Comment was free

Wednesday, 16 January, 2013

Julie Burchill is an English journalist and a self-declared “militant feminist”. Beginning at The New Musical Express at the age of 17, she graduated to the mainstream press and her work now appears regularly in newspapers such as The Guardian, The Sunday Times and The Observer. A Google search yesterday for “Julie Burchill” brought up “Transsexuals should cut it out | Julie Burchill | Comment is free…” high on the results page, but instead of leading to her weekend column, the link produces a “Statement from John Mulholland, editor of the Observer” pronouncing, “We have decided to withdraw from publication the Julie Burchill comment piece ‘Transsexuals should cut it out’.” In true Orwellian style, Mulholland’s statement appears under a banner declaring “Comment is free,” which is meant to trumpet the paper’s belief in free speech.

Backgrounder: Suzanne Moore wrote an article for The New Statesman in which she complained about the pressure being put on women to look like “Brazilian transsexuals”. On Twitter, Moore was instantly subjected to an outpouring of bile, and Julie Burchill rose to her defence in The Observer, where she described transsexuals as “a bunch of bed-wetters in bad wigs”. Cue massive Twitter bitching.

The Observer, the paper that bravely opposed the invasion of Suez in 1956, immediately removed the article from its website,” notes Simon Kelner in The Independent. And he asks: “What kind of country is this? Are we so cowed by vested interests that free speech, which includes the freedom to offend, is now constrained? Does the Twitter mob now set the rules on fair comment?”

It is amusing to see daft Marxists and crazed feminists handbagging each other, and it is doubly amusing to see the “Comment is free” hypocrisy exposed for what it is, but it is troubling that the mob can now mobilize Twitter for the purpose of instant censorship.

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