Nearly three years ago when a group of us set up South Leeds Life it seemed pretty straightforward. We all agreed that we wouldn’t publish anything racist. We drafted that section of “About This Blog” as follows:
“This blog stands in South Leeds’ long tradition of welcoming people into its communities. We celebrate the diversity of our communities and value the contributions that people have brought to South Leeds from all over the world. We will not tolerate abusive or disrespectful posts or comments.”
We’ve built our readership significantly since then. When only a hundred people read you it doesn’t matter so much what you say (although the law applies in the same way, but I’ll come to that), but with 20,000 page views a month comes responsibility.
Another founding principle was and is to encourage debate, that implies publishing views you don’t agree with. If the debate is whether Asda or Tesco should build the next supermarket, that’s fairly straightforward. When the subject is prostitution, or sites for travellers things get a little bit more delicate.
We were once criticised by a reader for painting a rosy picture of South Leeds and ignoring the problems. As we said at the time, we don’t want to do that. We do want to redress the balance in the mainstream media which prefers to print bad news stories from South Leeds. We do that by highlighting the many positive events and activities. But we need to cover the problem issues too.
I recognise that whilst I embrace the diversity of our streets, not everyone does. I think it’s important that South Leeds Life reflects those views and engages with them.
Then this week we received a comment from “Expats” who argued that one of our neighbourhoods was deteriorating because too many “black” people were now living there.
And so the debate started. As usual with these sorts of debate someone quoted Voltaire:
“I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.”
Well yes, these seem to be genuinely held opinions. Someone else raised geography – should our tolerance be limited to South Leeds residents? The person admits they have moved away and may not be living in the area anymore.
I said I would come back to the law. It is unlawful to publish comments that are racially offensive. That includes posts and readers’ comments. Especially as we “pre-moderate” comments, that is someone reads them before they are published. Other blogs “post-moderate” – they let anything be published, but remove offensive material once it comes to their attention.
I think it’s safe to say that South Leeds Life doesn’t want to break the law, any law. Nor would we want to go to court to defend publishing a racist or potentially racist comment. And bluntly such a court case would finish South Leeds Life, both financially and morally.
So we debated, we read and re-read “Expats” comment and decided it was racist, so we haven’t published it. But I think it’s important that you know that these decisions are taken properly and not just on the whim of whoever is checking the comments on any given day.
I’ll be back next week with more of my views from South of the River. If you’re on Twitter, you can follow me: @BeestonJeremy.