South of the River – Racist comments


Compass-SouthWe had an interesting debate at South Leeds Towers this week – where is the line between encouraging debate and not publishing racist comments?

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.

Jeremy Morton Aug13So 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.

5 Replies to “South of the River – Racist comments”

  1. If you’re saying that – rightly – you won’t publish articles that denigrate or slur any group of people bound together by a commonality, why were football fans in general, and Leeds fans in particular allowed to be maligned in the chip shop article ?

    Quote “The customers at this fish and chip shop are able to enjoy their takeaway in an environment reminiscent of a Mediterranean garden. Although a favourite venue for Leeds United fans on match days, the garden is free from litter and vandalism.”

    Or doesn’t that count ?

  2. Thanks for clarifying that Jeremy. I’m an admin for the huge Leedsface Facebook group and we often face similar criticism. I was bullied by a man in a different Facebook group just last night – he said I had banned him from Leedsface for making racist comments!
    Some people think they have a right to say anything they like, as if it’s their right to “debate” a subject using any terms of their choosing.
    A wise man once said “If you feel the need to write “I am not a racist but…” at the start of your post then whatever you write next could be construed as racist.”

  3. Carol

    Deciding what to publish is tricky but I don’t think the quote you refer to is problematic.

    I don’t think the speaker was criticising Leeds Utd fans – given that they are obviously significant customers why would he want to? – but saying that he and his wife kept the garden tidy despite the crowds using their chip shop on match days. Any large crowd of users at one time at a chip shop are going to create a significant amount of litter – whether they are football fans and which team they support is irrelevant.

  4. Hello Steve

    I’ll have to disagree with you as I don’t think the same would have have been said of pensioners’ outings to Harry Ramsden’s !

    Certainly the owner would want to keep his customers onside but – IMO – the judges voiced a negative pre-conception of Leeds United fans by labelling them litter louts and vandals. I think that’s very problematic, especially following what we now know about Hillsborough.

    And yes, I’m aware I just displayed a pre-conception of pensioners. Tricky isn’t it !

  5. Ahh… but do pensioners drop as much litter and cause as much vandalism as (a small minority of) football fans? Discuss!

    Maybe we should video Beeston Road after a football match and Harry Ramsden’s after a few coaches of pensioners have visited?!

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