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Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Supremes decision aftermath: the blogosphere's take

blogosphereImage by micamonkey via Flickr
By Paul Canning

The Supreme Court's decision to throw out the 'discretion test', aka 'go home and be discreet', has been widely covered across the 'blogosphere' - large websites and personal blogs which as traditional newspapers slowly die, or quickly in the case of the LGBT press, have become major news sources.

In the UK, although the case itself was covered in some posts it was the nasty tabloid reaction which stirred most interest from bloggers. Perhaps this is because the meaning and implications of the decision weren't clearly spelled out in the MSM (mainstream media), such as the BBC or even The Guardian - for example that it was a milestone LGBT rights decision or that it would have a worldwide legal impact just as the Australian High Court decision on 'discretion' which it referenced had done previously. This also meant that some of the overseas reaction seemed to understand it merely as a decision for the two applicants. The big gay site Towleroad for example took an MSM lead and headlined 'Gay Men Facing Deportation From UK Granted Right To Appeal.'

There was some thoughtful analysis. The asylum and refugee blog Free Movement pointed out last week that it doesn't just apply to LGBT:
HJ (Iran) establishes that where a person would in future refrain from behaving in a way that would expose them to danger because of the risk of persecution that behaviour brings, that person is a refugee.

The context in HJ (Iran) is famously homosexuality — would a gay man or lesbian woman have to conceal aspects of their sexuality in order to avoid persecution — but the legal principle is a wider one of profound significance. It gives proper life to the Refugee Convention and does away with the slightly sordid previous approach, which allowed UKBA to return activists that had been cowed by their past experiences. I always thought that this was one of the strongest arguments that the Home Office could run in this type of case: that the fact the asylum claimant had fled their country signified that they had been very successfully persecuted and he or she was unlikely to repeat the behaviour that had already caused them such pain and misery.
New York Law School professor Arthur S Leonard notes on his personal blog that the US Supreme Court has yet to judge an LGBT asylum case and although the UK court quoted from Australian, New Zealand, Canadian, South African, and United States decisions the American case used is cited 'selectively'.

Colorlines also puts the decision into an international context and says:
The level of scrutiny to which asylum seekers are subjected is a critical issue in the global movement for LGBT rights. The need for LGBT asylum may well intensify around the world, particularly in places like Uganda, Indonesia, Iran, and Iraq.
It notes that:
In the United States, the asylum rights of LGBT people is cemented in legal precedent, but the process of proving the case in court remains for many claimants a game of roulette.

Change.org saw it as "a positive step towards saving lives, and recognizing that sexuality and gender orientation aren’t lifestyle choices that can be turned on or off."

I'm sure more lawyerly analysis is to come.

It was the negative comments and tabloid reactions that most Brits blogged about though.

On the Independent's blogs, Samuel Muston "former aide to Zac Goldsmith MP" railed against "bile-filled comments" on his previous piece welcoming the decision. He seemed to expect more from readers of that newspaper - having engaged with similar commentators on my pieces for The Guardian I can tell him that the plain ignorant are everywhere.

Muston's appears to be a rare, positive, public Conservative commentator's reaction:
The coalition government had rejected the stance of the previous government and Theresa May welcomed the ruling.

The reaction this provokes is two-fold. Firstly, a cautious admiration for the new Home Secretary (whose support for gay-rights has in the past been patchy). And secondly, an uncomfortable reminder of what Labour stood for as it slid into senescence.
The main Tory blogs have kept quiet. The tabloids carried nasty commentaries from other Conservatives. Former Conservative MP Anne Widdecombe's was most resonant - both pinknews.co.uk and the reactionary Anglican Mainstream site saw fit to give her views oxygen - but there were plenty more.

In, I think, a solo comment from a Labour perspective, Michael Cashman MEP wrote an astonishing piece for Progress Online wherein he actually owns up that on asylum Labour was beholden to the tabloids:

However much a progressive home secretary (yes there have been some) may want to do the right thing, they have always had to look over their shoulder and see the headlines in the rightwing press.
He then calls "for international recognition of a claims test" yet "sadly, my hopes for such a system to be implemented within the UK remain diminished whilst sections of the media continue to peddle misinformation and harbour and encourage prejudice." Er, The Supreme court wrote the test in its decision. The tribunals now have to apply it, no matter what "sections of the media" say.

It wasn't just the tabloids - the Daily Telegraph and The Guardian both carried comment decrying the Supreme Court and showing ignorance on 'discretion' - but media watchers chose to focus understandably perhaps on the tabloid's reaction, and tried to look at in context. Said Enemies of Reason:
You have to see the Express's front page in context. They've come out with thinly veiled racism and xenophobia so many times now it's hard to know where to begin - and even this week there was a load of garbage about swimming pools being apparently forced to black out their windows 'because of Muslims' - but it was rubbish. Today's story isn't just some accidentally bad bit of reporting - it's deliberately bad. They aren't smart enough to try and provoke a reaction that garners them publicity for their paper by doing this; but they are dumb enough to think they can get away with thinly-veiled drivel like this... because they get away with it pretty much every day ...

... I get angry because I can't not get angry. It's worth bothering to get angry because every single person who protests about crud like this is a little victory against this kind of scum-sucking filth polluting the national papers.
Michelle Penny for Queeried described the Daily Star's coverage as "dangerous":
If  Britain as a country turn people and allow them to be returned and persecuted because of their sexuality, we are effectively saying we condone it. And that’s not just a bad thing on how the rest of the world will think we deal with the issue. By condoning persecution by sending people home even though we’re aware of the consequences, we’re put ourselves in a very difficult position should any Brit find themselves in trouble because of their sexuality abroad in countries. We can’t easily say we don’t agree with any persecution that goes on, and that they should be returned home to us, when effectively we sent out a very clear message to the world that persecution isn’t really an issue. And it’s not just going to have an impact abroad. Send out the message it’s okay to be attacked and persecuted for your sexuality abroad and it suddenly becomes very hard to justify why it isn’t at home as well ...

... What the Daily Star chose to do is take an issue affecting a minority and act to stigmatise them even more. It acted not to recreate the fear a gay person fears that would lead people to support the move, but instead constructed a gay person as something to be feared,  made being gay or lesbian something that people should question, something that people should look upon negatively. It has acted to construct sexuality with deception.

In 157 words, the Daily Star has not only acted to confirm the LGBT community’s position as second class citizens, but acted to put us all, in the minds of Daily Star readers, in an even more negative position.
The Project76 Blog looked at comments on the Daily Mail's article (rather them than me) and found:
My… brain… hurts.
Tabloid Watch in its run down says:
The editors of these tabloids know articles such as these - inflammatory, scaremongering, intolerant - push the buttons of their readers. Unfortunately, most have been so brainwashed by the daily drivel they are fed by these wretched publications that they believe it all at face value.
Kevin Arscott on Angry Mob held out little hope of any corrections resulting from what I pointed out (and Tabloid Watch agrees) was a blatant breach of the self-regulation 'Editor's code' on "inaccurate, misleading or distorted information".
The sickening reporting of the case of two gay men who won their supreme court case to remain in the UK left us with headlines and editorials from a range of tabloid newspapers that left anyone engaging with them having the distinct feeling that they were ‘wading into a stinking cesspool‘. With stories like these the angles consistently chosen by the tabloid press shows that they are no longer reporters of news but merely being inflammatory, scaremongering and intolerant (often at complete odds with the truth) in order to ‘push the buttons of their readers‘ ...

...Furthermore, newspaper content is created to sell as many newspapers as possible, so if breaking the code (or simply ignoring it) increases sales and generates more revenue; then is it in the interest of the editor to punish staff or the publisher to punish the editor when in monetary terms he is performing well? This is where the Editor’s code comes into direct conflict with the financial reality of what tabloid journalism has become; to abide by the code – become less intrusive into people’s private grief, less hateful against immigrants or any other target group or to stop making up stories about Muslims or Political Correctness or Heath and safety – is to put your newspaper in danger of losing revenue.  Unless the PCC [Press Complaints Commission, the self-regulator] has financial sanctions greater than the perceived loss of revenue that would occur should newspapers become less sensationalist and more fact or news driven, then self-regulation will not occur...

... The only effective form of press regulation currently available to the public is the boycott of tabloid newspapers, and sadly in this area I am sure I am only preaching to the converted.
Arscott's piece makes for depressing reading but is an excellent primer to the power of tabloid lies and how near impossible it is to fight them. As I've blogged, challenging the myths is important but righteous anger though perhaps empowering doesn't achieve very much.

What the Supreme Court decision does show - and perhaps the government's reaction to it - is that steady, multifacted work means that victories do and will come, for a "few more brown people" as Enemies of Reason puts it. Whether the tabloids like it or not.

Hurrah.

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