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'Refusing to stock The Daily Mail isn't censorship - but it does send a message about intolerant views'

Critics of Virgin Trains' decision need to take a step back, argues Hadley Stewart.

2018-01-10

The Daily Mail has accused Virgin Trains of “censorship” after the rail company announced that it would no longer stock the right-wing tabloid on its West Coast trains. The decision was taken after concerns expressed by Virgin’s employees about the paper’s views on unemployment, immigration and LGBT rights.

That being said, not everyone was breathing a sigh of relief that a newspaper with an extremely toxic editorial stance would no longer be distributed aboard Pendolinos up and down the country. So can we really go as far to say that this is censorship?

The Daily Mail has a long history of expressing discriminatory and derogatory views towards gay and bisexual men. Last November, Matthew Scully-Hicks was convicted of murdering his adopted daughter. The Mail ran the story under headline “Gay fitness instructor found guilty of murdering the 18-month-old daughter he adopted just two weeks before”

Why was his sexuality in the headline? The paper inferred that Scully-Hicks’ sexuality was somehow linked to the fact he had murdered a baby, giving the green light to its readers to post derogatory comments about the adoption of children by gay men and same-sex couples.

In October of the same year, the Mail on Sunday’s front page read “Doctors ordered to ask: are you gay?” after the NHS announced plans that would see GPs asking patients about their sexual orientation. The headline purposefully diverted the public’s attention from the benefits of having open conversations about sexual orientation and gender identity with healthcare professionals, suggesting that these topics should not be discussed within a healthcare setting.

The “equal rights lobby” has also been taken to task on several occasions, demonstrating the Mail’s belittling attitude towards equal rights for marginalised groups within society, including LGBT people.

Yet despite the paper’s history of inciting hatred towards these groups, some are calling for the decision to be overturned, claiming that it goes against freedom of speech.

Yes, this decision may be disappointing for Mail readers, but they will still be able to purchase the paper elsewhere prior to boarding a Virgin Train. Unless train staff will be conducting strip-searches of passengers to prevent them from bringing the tabloid on board its trains, or throwing their customer’s choice of reading material out of the window, we’re not witnessing a censorship attempt. The Daily Mail is still able to publish its newspapers, so its freedom to express its views has not been suppressed.

This decision also raises the question of the harmful effects publications like the Daily Mail can have on LGBT people. We know that our community is disproportionately affected by mental health issues, and the toxic messages published in mainstream press have a significant impact upon how we feel about our identities and role within society.

Although Virgin Trains is making headlines this week, other companies have also taken steps to show their views of the Daily Mail: The Stop Funding Hate campaign encourages businesses to stop paying for advertising space in the paper – perhaps this too will encourage a reconsideration within the Mail’s senior editorial team about the types of messages they wish to promote.

We can only hope that Virgin’s decision to stand by its values, its employees and its customers will filter into the mind-set of other organisations. If we can stop prejudice finding its way into widely-distributed publications in the future, the next generation of LGBT people will be spared overt hatred many groups have been subjected to for so long.