Nick Clegg has declined to back the campaign to ban page 3 girls from the Sun, on the grounds that the state should not dictate the content of newspapers. In an interview on BBC Radio 5 Live, the deputy prime minister said it would be “deeply illiberal” for the state to dictate what appears in newspapers…Clegg was asked by Shelagh Fogarty, the Radio 5 presenter, if he would support the page 3 ban during a live broadcast from Sheffield. “No, no, no,” he said. “I’ve got three little sons so I don’t have page 3 showing on my kitchen table. But I don’t think it is for the government to start telling the Sun editor what they put [there]. If you don’t like it, don’t buy it … you don’t want to have a moral policeman or woman in Whitehall telling people what they can and cannot see.”
The question of whether or not to ban things can be a litmus test of any liberal or Liberal. Some say you can’t be a liberal if you want to ban anything. But, then you get to practices where harm can be caused to others, and the debate gets complex.
But one thing I am clear on, and here I cheer Nick Clegg for his comments above, is that it is completely illiberal to call for a ban on The Sun’s Page 3 photos.
OK, try to influence society so that The Sun are embarrassed to continue to run it. Or influence the readers so they no longer want to see it. But don’t ban it.
However, I would point out, crucially, that those leading the campaign against Page 3 (“No more Page 3“) are emphatically not calling for it to be banned. They are calling on the editor of The Sun to voluntarily “drop” it. I support that. Indeed, the petition (which I have signed) actually says (with my bolding):
Take The Bare Boobs Out Of The Sun. We are asking Dominic Mohan to drop the bare boobs from The Sun newspaper. We are asking very nicely. Please, Dominic. No More Page 3.
So, maybe calling Nick Clegg “Hero of the Week” for saying that something shouldn’t be banned, when no one is actually calling for it to be banned, is a little suspect, to say the least. The Sun actually wrote:
On Radio Five Live today, the Deputy PM was asked to support a campaign – which is backed by his Lib Dem colleague Lynne Featherstone among others – to have The Sun’s Page 3 banned…But he didn’t.
I think that’s called a “straw man argument”, as defined by Wikipedia:
A straw man argument attempts to refute a given proposition by showing that a slightly different or inaccurate form of the proposition (the “straw man”) is absurd or ridiculous, relying on the audience not to notice that the argument does not actually apply to the original proposition.
(Lynne Featherstone’s blog makes clear her position. Lynne emphasised her views at the weekend on this very organ in comments under Stephen Tall’s article. Respected press commentator, Roy Greenslade has noted the important distinction between calling for a ban and making a request.)
* Paul Walter is a LibDem activist in Newbury, Berkshire and blogs at Liberal Burblings