The wind of change is blowing through the newspaper world — or so they would have us believe. The execrable Wendy Henry has been sacked as editor of the ghastly People and a “five-point code of conduct” has been agreed by the editor of every national newspaper (except The Financial Times). We are told that sceptics will be unconvinced by promises of good behaviour made by the likes of The Sun and The News of the World. Well, I count myself an unreserved sceptic on this one; I don’t believe a word of it. The code of conduct is itself nothing but a cynical front aiming to deflect legislation.
The sanctimonious cant with which the code was announced by some of Fleet Street’s worst offenders was simply nauseating. Brian Hitchen, sinister editor of The Star, declared (28 Nov): “It is a code of honesty and fair play that we have ALWAYS followed, long before its wording was agreed by other Fleet Street editors.” Yet one of the points in the code says: “Irrelevant references to race, colour and religion will be avoided.” Only last year The Press Council upheld a complaint I had made about The Star referring to someone as a “black bastard”. So please, Mr Hitchen, pull the other one.
The News of the World commissioned a MORI poll (3 Dec) to find out “what people think about Britain’s Press”. The questions were all loaded to give the answers that were required. For instance: “Would a newspaper be right or wrong, in the following cases, to breach people’s privacy during their inquiries or in the stories they print? To expose criminal conduct; to expose personal hypocrisy; to expose political extremism; to expose matters of public interest.” Why didn’t they add: “To titillate their readers” or “To persecute people we don’t approve of”?
The News of the World brags that: “This paper has a proud tradition of exposing corruption, humbug and perversion. Our scroll of honour (the five-point code) must not become a hiding place for those behaving illegally or immorally.” And that’s the giveaway. To the self-serving creeps who infest The News of the World the definition of “immoral” can be anything that suits them at the time. In effect they are saying, we’ve signed this code of conduct but we reserve the right to flout it whenever we want.
As far as gay-baiting is concerned, it will be business as usual. Susan Ardill wrote in The Independent (1 Dec): “It is dismaying to learn that the new code of practice … affords no protection to the two groups most routinely abused in their pages — gays and women. Will the misogynist and queer-bashing excesses of the British Press remain fair comment?”
Julie Burchill, however, doesn’t agree with the code at all (Mail on Sunday, 3 Dec): “The homosexual pop star who flaunts a new ‘girlfriend’ every month, or who gets married in a hurricane of publicity is offering his ‘private’ life for public consumption and approval —and then he expects to turn it off like TV when it doesn’t suit him .. In the long run, this code will make the world a safer place for camp crooners — and Members of Parliament, of course.”
What Ms Burchill, and many other apologists for Press gossip-mongering, fail to acknowledge is the sheer cruelty of it all. Not only “camp crooners” get the unwelcome spotlight but ordinary people who do not seek publicity or influence. “Everyone likes to gossip” say the tabloid pack, and that, as far as they are concerned, makes the filthy business of destroying lives OK. There really is no defence, and no amount of pious bleatings from embattled scum-sheets can justify their rottenness. General legislation to curb the evil antics of a small number of newspapers is dangerous, but if it does come the Press will have no-one but themselves to blame. It is no good maundering on about dangerous threats to press freedom now — the public know the difference between what is really in their interest and what is in the interests of newspaper proprietors’ balance-sheets.
I urge every reader of Gay Times to harass newspapers every time they breach this unconvincing Code of Practice.
The Star brought us a report (23 Nov) headed “Cops Quiz gays over death of schoolboy”. It began: “Gays and sex offenders were quizzed last night in the hunt for the brutal killer of a runaway schoolboy.”
At the end of the report we were informed that “a juvenile” had been charged with the crime — one of the murdered boy’s school friends, in fact. So, what was all this about inferring that the gay community were in some way implicated? I’ll let you draw your own conclusions on that one.
We are constantly warned that the Government will fight the next election on a “morality campaign” (the word ‘morality’ in this sense has been given the Tory treatment which makes it mean the precise opposite of what is in the dictionary). Gays will become Mrs Thatcher’s next Falklands factor, and it is over our lives that she will attempt to trample to victory.
In America a similar campaign is underway as right-wing politicians and fundamentalist churches spit venom at our brothers and sisters over the water. Of course, the American God-shouters are the real experts in persuading the gullible and ignorant that what was formerly considered undesirable is now virtuous. Persecution and scapegoating are, in the eyes of the holy-rollers, “good things” because by having an “enemy” to fight, the fundamentalists can feel righteous.
If gays didn’t exist, religionists would have to invent us. As it is, they’ve had to settle for reinventing us — as threatening monsters and exotic aliens. Look at this quote (The Sun, of course, 30 Nov), from “Baptist firebrand” Daniel Jackson, upon hearing about a proposed gay soap opera in California: “The Lord did not want these creatures and we don’t want them in our living rooms at prime viewing times.” ‘These creatures’, boys and girls, are you and me.
The London Evening Standard (29 Nov) told us of “The Preacher waging war on gays”. This story concerns “Louis Sheldon, the latest name to conjure with on the religious Right”. This Sheldon creature is apparently a Presbyterian Minister “a hell-fire and damnation voice who is also a subtle backstairs operator.”
The Standard told us: “His tactics are bold and ruthless. When the city of Santa Ana refused to ban a Gay Pride Festival in a public park, Sheldon published the names of the offending council members and started a campaign to remove them from office.” Apparently gay activists burn him in effigy, spit at him in the streets and picket his home. But, of course, Sheldon has gigantic financial backing from a “multi-millionaire California businessman” which makes him powerful and influential, however dangerous and fanatical he becomes. How come there are no “angels” willing to finance an effective opposition. Are there no gay millionaires?
Sheldon, of course, comes from a long line of religio-political opportunists who have tried to use gays as a rallying point for their mad ideas —beginning with Anita Bryant. “Sheldon’s campaign could grow,” says The Standard almost hopefully, “and if so: gays beware.”
On the day of reckoning Sun editor Kelvin McKenzie is going to have a lot of explaining to do. Not least will be his reckless reassurance to heterosexuals that they are immune to Aids. “Straight Sex Cannot Give You Aids — Official” was the incredible headline on November 17th. This was supported by an editorial reading: “The killer disease Aids can only be caught by homosexuals, bisexuals, junkies and anyone who has received a tainted blood transfusion … the risk of catching Aids if you are heterosexual is ‘statistically invisible’. In other words, impossible. So now we know — anything else is just homosexual propaganda.”
This, of course, was prompted by the ill-informed utterings of Lord Kilbracken (“Editors latch on to any crank who appears to discover discrepancies deep in official statistics” — Observer 10 Dec) who gave The Sun the ammunition it needed.
Lord Kilbracken was roundly condemned by people who knew better than he and, to its credit, The Daily Mirror accepted that straights are not immune (29 November, “Aids the REAL risk — straight sex is a threat.”)
Not so The Sun, which continued on its hare-brained way: “Aids — the hoax of the century” wrote Dr Vernon Coleman (Sun 18 Nov): “Why it paid prudes, gays and business to scare us all.” On December 4th Sun columnist Richard Littlejohn wrote: “After all, it is hardly a disease which threatens the vast majority of the population despite the misleading propaganda being peddled by the gay lobby. If you steer clear of sleeping with woofters and drug-users you should be safe … The Government seems more concerned with a handful of homosexuals than millions of women. Perhaps if more lesbians got cervical cancer, Ministers might consider doing something.”
We know The Sun has nothing but contempt for gays, but to write off the thousands of gay people affected by HIV as “a handful” is a disgusting trivialisation of an enormous tragedy affecting many lives. The Sun and other papers are engaged in wishful thinking if they are trying to turn Aids back into “the gay plague”. Equally irresponsible is the attempt to convince readers that gay lives are valueless. As leading Aids-expert Michael Adler wrote in The Observer (10 Dec): “If reinventing myths and delighting in fantasies is all that happens, then silence is better, so that we can get on, unimpeded with the battle.”
Everyone fervently hopes that there will never be a huge heterosexual incidence of Aids in this country, but no-one knows for sure what will happen — not even The Sun. To wilfully encourage complacency at this stage could well turn out to be monstrous and murderous error. What will Kelvin have to say then?
The Bedside Guardian is an annual anthology of items from that paper’s pages. The introduction to it this year was by Ian McKellen who wrote: “It’s time The Guardian had a regular gay page. And if you don’t know why, then it’s hightime.”
On 18thNovember, The Guardian invited the sadly bewildered Peregrine Worsthorne to review the book: “Ian McKellen urges you to start a regular gay page,” he said in his peculiarly pompous way. “That would be carrying liberal silliness a bridge too far. Gays, and other unpopular minorities, like feudal reactionaries – the one I belong to – don’t need special pages where we appear like protected species in a nature reserve.”
The difference, of course, is that feudal reactionaries occupy every other page of just about every newspaper in the land, and they write on topics of interest to other feudal reactionaries. If gays were given similar access, we wouldn’t complain.