Gay and Lesbian Humanist

Winter 2001-2002

The English-born journalist Garry Otton has published a no-holds-barred, take-no-prisoners guide to the appalling treatment the media, in cahoots with the church, dole out to queers. G&LH’s editor, Andy Armitage, himself a life-long journalist, throws down the gauntlet.

Red Rags and Bull

by Andy Armitage

Fasces, from which the word “fascism” comes, are a bundle of rods wrapped around an axe whose blade is protruding. It was a symbol in ancient Rome of a magistrate’s authority. The axe represents the power to behead, the rods the power to scourge.

It was fascists who persecuted the Jews, a point made eloquently by Peter Tatchell in his foreword to this 250-odd page book, which is stuffed with examples of the many ways the media seek to cut off our heads – that is our ability to be heard – while scourging us with the rods of their malicious, ill-informed invective.

Like the school bully, the journo who has a large-circulation ‘newspaper’ through which to spread his sickness will be cruel because he can be.

The churches come in for special attention in this trawl through Scotland’s worst ‘journalism’, because they and the media were and are in cahoots. It may not have begun that way – and no doubt no binding contract has been signed between them – but by a happy (for them) accident the likes of Cardinal Thomas Winning (now, to the relief of many, dead) and insufferably ludicrous hacks whose outpourings would be laughable if they were not so dangerous have done untold damage to human beings both north and south of the border.

Otton is not short on examples. He’s spent five years collecting them (and his book, while coming from the queer community, does not confine itself to LGBT treatment by the media). You can dip into this book and get yourself thoroughly worked up to a battle-ready frenzy with just about every excerpt you read.

The media, of course, do not want debate. The Scottish print media – notably in the past couple of years or so over the repeal of Section 28 – join their English tabloid cohorts in shouting and bawling their misplaced indignation on questions of morality. Their morality. Such have been the moral panics created by them that public debate has been diminished, says Tatchell.

I have often wished during 30-odd years of journalism – most of it for newspapers and radio – that I could pride myself on my and other journalists’ honesty, integrity and honour in our desire to tell the truth, or get as close to it as we can. That pride has continued to diminish until, with a few exceptions, it has reached ground zero. Those exceptions are some, but by no means all, journalists – writing mostly in the broadsheets – who do not feel the need to test their machismo at every opportunity by doing what school bullies do: getting the victim in the corner of the schoolyard at playtime and kicking the shit out of him.

I find myself thinking back to the eighties when the odious and detestable Kelvin McKenzie was still editor of the Sun, and splash headlines screeched about “pulpit poofs” and told us how airline pilots had the “gay plague”. I feel no shame now in saying that I was sometimes moved to tears by my feelings of impotence and my sheer inability to get up at that moment, march into the office of the subeditor who wrote that headline and wring his (it would mostly be a his and not a her) scrawny neck.

I had my own little run-in with his leader writer, Ron Spark, and took him through a National Union of Journalists (NUJ) disciplinary tribunal for something he had said in a leader (anonymously, but I had my ways of finding out who had written it) about gays. I won, then lost on appeal. What struck me at the time was that a union that claimed to speak up for equality and fair reporting in such matters actually allowed ‘journalists’ on the Sun to be members.

So, when I read some of the headlines and excerpts in Otton’s book, I’m back there, ashamed of being lumped with the likes of Spark and others of his despicable ilk, frustrated at being a member of a union (and for a while its Equality Council) that would not publicly castigate these malicious bullies and, since the Sun (surprisingly) operated a closed shop in those days, put them out of work by expelling them.

Gay and Lesbian Humanist now challenges any of those reporters and columnists who have used their power to bully: we’re not a big magazine likely to be widely read by the likes of these dreadful people, but such challenges have a habit of leaking to their targets, and, if any of them dares to make a rational case to support the hateful views they have espoused over the years, then we will give them a platform – and we will take apart their argument thread by thread.

In the foreword to Sexual Fascism, Tatchell – our best-known queer campaigner – makes the point that there’s a wide difference in the media between the reporting of racism and homophobia. “While the racist killing of Stephen Lawrence has received massive news coverage, the murder of gay actor Michael Boothe by queer-bashers in west London in 1990 was given perfunctory attention,” he writes. “It seems that the murders of gay men are still deemed unworthy of media sympathy.”

Otton’s remarkable book begins by telling us of the horrific murder in 1995 of 35-year-old Michael Doran. Four young yobs, one of them a 14-year-old girl, went queerbashing and Doran was given 83 blows to his body. The thugs went off partying, boasting of their deed.

It was the inadequacy of the ensuing newspaper reports that led to the establishment of Scottish Media Monitor, a hard-hitting column first in Gay Scotland and later in ScotsGay.

It would seem that, for Garry Otton, it has since been a labour of love – love born of hate: the hate wielded by the pitiful hacks in the print media; the hate felt by the likes of Otton himself, and many more of us, for the twisted minds that feel the perverted need to serve up such spiteful and rancorous venom that has been shown to have done much harm to vulnerable human beings.

There’s a saying of sorts. A guy who has no trouble with his own sexuality has no trouble with anyone else’s. I’ve found that among straight friends. You have to wonder what is really eating at the hearts of the likes of Jack Irvine, now the boss of a PR firm, who had a column in the Scottish Mirror and wrote apropos of the age of consent: “A pretty young boy of 16 can’t vote for his local MP, but he can now be buggered by him”; and that 16-year-olds are “deemed mature enough to be bum chums for sleazy old pervs”. Or take Gerald Warner of the Scottish Daily Mail, who wrote about the Scottish Executive’s Communities Minister, Wendy Alexander, when she dared to opine that Section 28 was an unjust law. Otton takes up the story:

Gerald Warner’s attacks on Wendy Alexander were personal and damning. He blasted: “Where are the visionaries to lead us out of the Wendy House?” He rounded on the “wee pretendy parliament ...” and asked: “Why are we ruled by a gang of cooncillors [sic] and fat women from social work departments?”

It’s not surprising that those who inhabit the scummier lairs of the Fourth Estate should conflate two of their hates: queers and women. It points to the mindset that makes them what they are. And it would be good to be able to ignore them, as one would a particularly noisome child, or laugh at them as we laugh at the likes of Souter and other lunatics at the frothy end of religion. But we can’t. We can’t because they have large numbers of readers of questionable intelligence who are as culpable by their buying the toxic rags as the ‘journalists’ are by their ‘journalism’. But those readers also have votes.

And we must never take our minds off the fact that, were it not for those readers, who go to the newsagents’ shops in their droves to buy red-top tabloids, those tabloids would not get away with what they do. Market forces prevail, and, while there are customers for hate, hate will be manufactured in no short measure. For make no mistake: the days of honourable journalism are, but for the exceptions I mention above, no longer with us. Instead, we get a mere commodity that sells as a box of Sugar Puffs sells. Sugar Puffs are sweet and present no challenge to the palate, and no doubt sell in large quantities. So with tabloids: easy to consume, unchallenging, anodyne – but beneath the sugar coating lies poison.

More of the usual suspects are in Otton’s book, of course, such as the Sun’s Richard Littlejohn, Gary Bushell, formerly of the same rag, Simon Heffer of the Daily Mail and a few more.

Otton ends with the campaign by the absurd busman-turned-millionaire Brian Souter (dubbed a “shitbag” by Gay Times) to keep Section 28 in Scotland by bankrolling an appalling and sadistic campaign. He failed to keep Section 28, but succeeded in indirectly causing serious injury to the victims of yet more queerbashing.

Dip into this book before you write a letter to an MP or a councillor to complain about injustice, or before you go on radio or TV – if you are a campaigner – to take part in a debate about homophobia. It will put you in the fighting spirit. If you waver once in your conviction that many of our enemies are writing for the most popular ‘newspapers’, dip in and renew that conviction.

Be annoyed. Be very annoyed.

Sexual Fascism by Garry Otton is available from Ganymede Books (78 Montgomery Street, Edinburgh EH7 5JA), £8.99 paperback.
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Created : Sunday, 2002-02-17 / Last updated : Wednesday, 2007-12-12
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