David Banks: How does the media respond to the atrocity in Paris?

Journal columnist and former Mirror editor David Banks on why we must not submit to threats - but throwing petrol on the flames is wrong too

Tributes at the French Institute in Edinburgh
Tributes at the French Institute in Edinburgh

The village of St Mary Mead is the world in microcosm for Miss Jane Marple.

The most murderous crimes, the greatest international evils . . . all are explicable once Agatha Christie’s frail country spinster finds parallels for mind-set and motive among her neighbours within the fictional country community in which she lives.

Godzone is a bit like that.

Forgive my insensitive and extreme comparison but the same sense of grievance which apparently led offended Muslim extremists to slaughter ten journalists and two policemen in a Paris newspaper office can be – indeed HAS been – replicated in miniature in my own environment.

Some piece of whimsy I included in a recent column provoked an outraged reaction from the central character (which gives the lie to readers who imagine my ‘pals’ are imaginary) to the extent that he has darkened neither the Red Lion’s domino table nor yet its doorstep since the offence-giving edition. Mea culpa.

It happened once before: a column poking mild fun at the double-barrelled fraternity (of whom there are plenty in Godzone) drew fury from one of those I (unwisely) named. Mea maxima culpa.

Stomping off in a huff is one thing, however; planning and staging a mass execution quite another. The media rightly publically exposes and criticises the illicit and downright disgusting acts of Western governments who collude to torture and illegally imprison suspects without trial, activities which recruit so many impressionable young Muslims to the caliphate cause.

But when the press shines a similarly critical spotlight on the blinkered fanaticism of the jihadi terrorists the result is murder and mayhem; terrorism triumphs.

So how does a journalist do his job and not give offence to someone? How can mere words or artwork, be they fact or comment carefully framed to avoid infringing stringent laws of libel and contempt, lead to savage murder?

More importantly, as a series of radio stations rang to ask this ex-editor yesterday, what should be the response of the media fraternity in registering its horror at and defiance of such bullying butchery? Run and hide or give ’em hell?

Submitting to threats is not an option, as I hardly needed reminding by my Guardianista daughter’s youthful “publish and be damned” Facebook tirade; on the other hand, reprinting the original provocation is like fighting fires by pouring on petrol. I did that once at the Mirror and the outcome was not good (but that’s another story).

It is a wobbly and dangerous tightrope act familiar to any editor: balancing Voltaire’s vow to defend to the death a person’s right to express even the most distasteful opinions against any decent journalist’s determination not to submit to the pressure exerted by fanatical bullies.

Miss Marple would undoubtedly have the solution to at least one of the current conundrums.

She would most likely chide the domino defector for his over-sensitive silliness and me for making merry at a mate’s expense.

:: The right to vote is a precious gift, which makes what I possessed until yesterday – THREE entries on the electoral register – a positive Godsend!

When I checked with the county council why I had now received a THIRD demand that I register (despite having been informed online that I was on the bona fide voters’ list) I discovered that not only was Arthur David Banks registered at my address but so were A David Banks as well as Arthur D Banks.

I soon sorted it out with the Electoral Registration Office, but only after extracting their promise not to inform the Department of Work and Pensions that Arthur, A David and Arthur D were one and the same!

:: Don't you just love the way creeping privatisation has sorted out parcel delivery?

Even with the Christmas Day collapse of City Link costing 2,400 workers their jobs I still see so many couriers on zero hours contracts zooming through the village in their gas-guzzling, polluting vehicles that I begin to wonder if wouldn’t be better all round to have just one firm doing the deliveries?

We could send the parcels out in smaller vans. We might even paint them all red...

david_banks@hotmail.com

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