I don’t like the Mail. But you can’t ban people from reading it.

A lot has been written in the last few weeks about how best to hold the media to account.

Rival regulators, anguished academics, political procrastinators and emotional editors have all had their say.

But there’s another source of accountability that is perhaps the most potent of all: the audience.

They’re (I refuse to say we’re – I’m above all this, obvs) a fickle lot, of course.

They like to ride their high horses while splashing through the gutter.

But now and again, the readers have enough.

So it was in Liverpool with The Sun after Hillsborough. And so it was everywhere with the News of the World after its journalists hacked Millie Dowler’s phone.

And so it could be now with the Mail and Sun over their coverage of immigration and asylum seekers.

There’s been much celebration in some quarters of Lego’s decision not to run any more of its popular promotional activities with the Mail – although whether the toy firm’s announcement was the result of happenstance or soul-searching remains to be seen.


The increasingly brave Gary Lineker and the Hope Not Hate pressure group have been trying to persuade his beloved Walkers Crisps and other brands such as John Lewis not to advertise in the papers.

They haven’t had huge success so far, and their efforts have been questioned in a blog by Press Gazette editor Dominic Ponsford as the beginning of a slippery slope to censorship.


I think we need to have a sense of proportion about this – particularly when you see the BBC’s superb coverage of what real censorship looks like in China.



Pressure from advertisers on editorial teams to change the focus of their coverage is a fact of media life.

Any editor worth their salt will have had a few skirmishes on this front.

They may not win them all these days. But they’re tests of integrity, of courage, and of diplomacy, not battles with Big Brother.

What does seem like censorship, though, is the ban on the Mail, Sun and Express being proposed at City University in London.


I have no problem with the student union shop refusing to sell the Mail – as dozens of newsagents in Liverpool refuse to stock The Sun. But apparently there is no shop selling newspapers on campus. Which is in itself a sad state of affairs, perhaps.

Consumer pressure – people power – should hold the media to account. Newspapers are businesses and businesses are vulnerable to boycotts.

But there’s a fundamental difference between not selling – or boycotting – a product and banning it altogether.

What is the SU going to do – have its own thought police ripping the paper from people’s hands?

In other words, if you’re going to wage war on the Mail, let’s have a clean fight.

By all means, use every democratic method to persuade people not to buy a product. By all means, put pressure on other people not to advertise in that product.

But resorting to a ban on people reading that product – or reading anything, for that matter – means you’ve lost all right to so much as a square inch of the moral high ground.

Banning reading at a university is about as wrong-headed as you can get.


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