GAY TIMES October 1994

And so, Brian (Bonehead) Hitchen has been promoted from the editorship of The Daily Star to that of the equally grotty and declining Sunday Express. As a leaving present, the Press Complaints Commission wagged a finger severely at Bonehead (who probably wagged two fingers back). Fleet Street’s leading homophobe was censured for making “prejudicial and pejorative references to homosexuals in breach of Clause 15(i) of the Code of Practice” in an article about the BBC’s equal opportunities policy. “Working at the BBC must be a poofter’s idea of paradise,” wrote the editor who describes himself as being to the right of Atilla the Hun. “It’s so wonderful that queer couples who ‘marry’ could, before yesterday, qualify for a £75 ‘wedding gift voucher’ and a week’s honeymoon… doesn’t it make you want to vomit?… it’s a good thing the pansies can’t get pregnant.”

Interestingly, the Press Complaints Commission said in its adjudication of this case that it is “unwilling to compile a list of proscribed words or phrases” and upholds the “traditional right of columnists to express personal views and even to use language which some may find offensive.” That should be good news for Bushell, Littlejohn, Junor et al — it seems to be giving them the green light to start the unrestrained slagging once more. Bring on the poofters, woofters, lezzies and queers.

The Press Complaints Commission might well have found against Hitchen on this occasion, but what in the end does the adjudication mean? I haven’t seen it reproduced in The Daily Star (unless I missed it, which is quite likely — the tabloids have made an art form of burying and concealing rights of reply, PCC adjudications and apologies).

But there is a clue to show that Hitchen was irritated by the complaint. By way of a farewell in The Daily Star (August 30th), he returned to that topic much favoured by right-wing pundits — political correctness. Commenting on discord among deaf people at the suggestion that they should modify their sign language so as to make it less offensive to minorities, he said: “The sign for a Japanese person is a twist of the little finger at the corner of one eye to denote a slanted eye. To indicate a black person the deaf normally flatten their nose. And to indicate a homosexual — you’ve guessed it — a limp wrist! There is no record of the Japanese complaining or of black people objecting to their sign-language description. But the homosexuals are outraged. It must be very tiresome to be continually outraged about things.”

There has been a flurry of excitement among other right-wing columnists about Hitchen’s elevation. Frank Johnson, writing in The Daily Telegraph (September 8th) seems to be something of an admirer of Hitchen’s extremism: “As a long-standing member of the Association of Traders in Right Wing Opinions, I ask: how can the rest of us match such competition? In particular, this new Hitchen column is a threat to one of our oldest members, Sir John Junor in the rival Mail on Sunday.” Mr Johnson says that if any of the other raving right-wingers wrote in such disgusting terms, the editor would probably ask for some kind of moderation. Hitchen, though, is the editor and has no such restraining influence. Stand by for blasting.

The other part of Clause 15 of the PCC’s Code of Practice says that there should be no reference to a person’s sexuality in a newspaper unless it is “relevant to the story”. And yet when the solicitor who was working on a high-profile murder case was sacked by his client, he was gratuitously described by The Daily Mail (August 13th) as “a self-confessed homosexual”. The Mail quoted him as saying “I didn’t particularly want (my homosexuality) to be public knowledge” but that didn’t stop them printing a photo of him and his lover — whom they also named. The London Evening Standard (August 12th) also referred to the solicitor as “a self-confessed homosexual” while boasting on the facing page that the paper would not be publishing a snatched photograph of Princess Diana because it breached the PCC’s Code of Practice. One has to ask if this comes into the “one law for the rich” category.

Anyway, Gay Times reader Mike Allaway also noticed this seemingly straightforward breach of Clause 15 (ii) and put in a complaint to the PCC about it. A letter duly arrived informing him that the Commission had previously received “a complaint along similar lines against an article in The Daily Star”. The Commissioners noted in that case that the solicitor “had been quoted as saying that his homosexuality was ‘an open secret’ and the Commission did not consider that his privacy had been invaded.” After being “outed” by the lousy Daily Star it certainly was an open secret — a very open secret!

The message to Mr Allaway was clear — don’t bother proceeding with the complaint because we’ll only throw it out. What price gay privacy?

***

Reporting the 10th Annual International Conference on Aids in Yokohama, The Independent (August 10th) said that prejudice and ignorance about HIV in Japan is alarmingly high. “Aids has been portrayed by many in Japan as a foreigners’ disease,” says the paper. “Attitudes change very slowly in Japan and the stigma attached to the disease is still very high.” Indeed, the Ministry of Health had to send out circulars to hotels and restaurants around the conference venue asking them not to refuse to serve people with HIV — who represented 10 per cent of the 12,000 delegates. The traders needed to be reminded that they cannot contract the virus “from casual contact with luggage, sheets or tableware used by an infected person.”

Perhaps our own Department of Health should put out similar information to British tabloid journalists who still seem in dire need of educating about HIV and Aids. The Sunday Mirror (August 28th) originated a story about a block of flats in Birmingham, which was enthusiastically taken up by The Daily Star (August 29th), with a front page report about a “council skyscraper branded Britain’s first ‘Aids Ghetto’”.

According to the paper “scared families are flocking to leave” the flats. It tells how the relatives of one “gran” are too frightened to visit her because “many of her neighbours — half are gay —are dying from the HIV virus”. The report also says that other residents are “scared of touching lift buttons” unless they are wearing protective gloves and there is much more of the kind of ignorant panic-mongering little seen in newspapers since the mid-eighties. Nowhere in the article is there any contradiction of the superstitious clap-trap about lift buttons, but there is plenty of inference that homosexuality and Aids are synonymous (“This is a ghetto for gays. My wife Vinetta is terrified. We don’t want to be in contact with people suffering from Aids” says one man).

The Pink Paper (September 9th) told of the effects these largely untrue reports had on the residents of the flats: gay-bashing, graffiti, bitterness and an increase in misunderstandings between neighbours.

Brian Hitchen was still the editor of The Daily Star when this drivel was published. In the Sunday Express he will have three times as many readers to assail with his psychotic gay-bashing.

***

You’ve heard of the Pretty Police, well here come the Pretty Hacks. In a throw-back to the old days, The News of the World (September 4th) carried an article headed “Vicar dumps wife for rolls with sandwich boy…” The article concerned a gay clergyman who had been set up by so-called “undercover reporters” who had discovered that he was having an affair with a 17-year-old youth.

Posing as a gay man, The News of the World journo appears to have charmed his way into the confidence of the younger man and persuaded him to talk extensively about the affair. Having thus got his “exclusive”, the reporter sent in his colleague to pose “as a new gay pal” in order to get them both talking together. The vicar’s estranged wife was extensively quoted, but the article does not make clear her role in all of this.

The men responsible for this cruel and ruinous bit of gay-baiting (the vicar is now “suspended pending a Church investigation” into the NoW story) are Phil Taylor and Mazher Mahmood.

Hang on — Mazher Mahmood — doesn’t that name ring a bell? Is this the same Mazher Mahmood who outed Michael Brown, MP for Brigg and Cleethorpes in the May 8th edition of The News of the World, using the same underhand tactics? On that occasion, being tipped off by a member of the Conservative Party (who was paid £10,000 for his trouble), Mahmood posed as a diplomat and inveigled himself into the confidence of one of Mr Brown’s friends. Using hidden tape recorders, he provoked the men into indiscreet conversations which he subsequently splashed all over the paper.

The justification for this intrusion into private lives was that Mr Brown had broken the law by having an affair with a 20-year-old man (after Parliament voted for 18 but before the Royal Assent).

Following this exposé, Mr Brown was forced to resign his Government position.

Easy money, of course. The tragedy is that gay people are so vulnerable to this kind of subterfuge.

Perhaps if OutRage! is looking for a new campaign, it should consider tracking down this Mazher Mahmood chappy and photographing him. Then we can all see what this sneaking back-stabber looks like — and prevent him further lining his pockets by ruining gay lives.

[Note: Mazher Mahmood continued using subterfuge to create stories but eventually went too far and was convicted in October 2016 of conspiring to pervert the course of justice and was given 15-month jail sentence.]

***

Tabloid sub-editors are really alchemists: they can turn good news into bad and make a positive story negative without your even noticing. Subs are the people who write the headlines and who make sure that stories fit the paper’s political line.

An example of sub-editors at work came in the case of the Appeals Court decision to reject a father’s challenge and allow a lesbian mother to keep custody of her children. The judges upheld a previous decision which said that the mother could give her two daughters “a more normal family life than the father”. Judges do not take these decisions lightly. They have all the facts before them as well as the opinions of experts in the field.

However, by the time the subs on The Daily Mail and The Daily Express (September 3rd) had finished with it, triumph had become tragedy. “Lesbians Preferred” was the headline over The Mail’s report, which was written entirely from the father’s perspective. “A devoted father has lost the legal battle to stop his two daughters moving in with his ex-wife and lesbian lover” it began. Notice the old tabloid trick — if gays gain anything it is invariably at the expense of straights. In the world of the middle-market tabloids “they” (gays) are always taking things away from “us” (straights). At one time we were gobbling up “ratepayers’ money”, now we’re taking away the children. The Express’s headline made this even more explicit: “Father loses daughters to ex-wife and lesbian lover”.

The Sun (September 9th) went one better and carried a lengthy interview with the father in which he naturally expressed his disappointment, but also took the opportunity to repeatedly slander his wife’s relationship. The mother’s side of the story, however, remains untold. Commenting on the matter The Sun said in an editorial: “The judges ruled that the girls will have a more normal life with their mother and her LESBIAN lover. How can two women sleeping together be normal in the eyes of two little girls? Every parent will be scared by the implications of this disturbing case.”

And every lesbian mum will be angry at The Sun’s continual wilful distortion of their lives.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s