On BBC’s Question Time, a panel member says that Boris Johnson’s father’s alleged history of violence is ‘on record’ and calls him a ‘wife beater’. Unless and until that’s proven to be the case, neither you nor I can know its truth or otherwise.
Ms Bruce, required to maintain required BBC standards of ‘balance’ and ‘right of reply’, began with the words, “I’m not disputing what you’re saying.” She was making it clear, for all who were minded to hear, that she was offering no judgement, and expressing no personal opinion. She went on to state two uncontested (as far as I’m aware) facts – firstly, that Mr. Johnson’s wife told a journalist she needed hospital treatment after her husband had broken her nose and, secondly, that friends of Mr. Johnson agreed it happened but was ‘a one-off’.
Let’s say it again. Ms. Bruce is simply, as her job requires, reporting ‘balancing’ statements made, and opinions offered, by other relevant people. She is herself passing no judgement and expressing no opinion. If we focus our attention on the actual language used, and consider it with due care and attention, how in heaven’s name can Ms. Bruce be accused of making light of violence against women? That charge could only justifiably be levelled at those ‘friends of Mr. Johnson’.
Violence against women is far too widespread, and it is utterly repugnant and unacceptable. My thinking is that Ms. Bruce would be one hundred per cent in agreement with that, as her 35 year support of “Refuge” would appear to indicate. Violence against women arouses, rightly, the strongest of feelings, but strength of feeling must not be allowed to override careful attention to the actual words spoken or written. Too often, assumptions are instantly made, ‘offence’ is immediately taken, words are put into people’s mouths that they never used, and ideas are ascribed to them that they wouldn’t for a moment own. Worst of all, even when they make that clear, they’re still vilified and hounded by the merciless, baying, tick-box, check-list, lynch mob. This does not, in fact, assist their cause. It’s simply itself a variant form of repugnant and unacceptable ‘violence’.
If we don’t value freedom (within the law) of speech and opinion, then we’re foolishly undermining a most vital foundation of our democracy – taking a saw to the branch we’re sitting on comes to mind. If we do value freedom of speech and opinion, than strength of feeling (after a count of at least ten) should be balanced by weight of reasoned, and reasonable, discussion. Debating points, not destroying people, should be the centre of our focus. The lynch mob must constantly be called to account.
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