Letter: Tatchell's protest
Thursday 03 December 1998
You, as editor of The Independent, rightly have the privilege of total control over what views are expressed in your newspaper. I, as a reader, can agree or disagree with those views. There is no way I can protest except by writing to you: and you can print my objections, or not, as you see fit. I can't storm your offices and demand that you give my views an airing. If I did, you would quite rightly have me thrown out: if I continued to do it, you would probably have me arrested.
I have a similar editorial control over who speaks from the pulpit of my church. No one, even my bishop, has a right to stand in my pulpit and speak except at my express invitation. The same rule applies in every church in the land, even in Canterbury Cathedral: no one, not even the Archbishop himself, has a right to speak from the pulpit without the permission of the Dean of Canterbury, the priest responsible for the cathedral.
This situation is enshrined in law. That is not privilege; it is simply good management. Similar, but less specific, laws protect just about every public utterance you could think of. What would happen if a disapproving theatregoer disrupted a play by mounting the stage and giving an alternative performance? What if a disaffected customer stood on the bar of a pub on a Saturday night and denounced the landlord? Would they be allowed to get away with it? I imagine that both situations would be treated by the police as public order offences. I certainly know that the invasion of a football pitch by unhappy fans carries a heavy penalty.
I have no strong views about either Peter Tatchell or the Archbishop of Canterbury, but I do believe in legitimate protest. If, however, your manner of protesting leads you to break the law, you must be prepared to take the consequences. Privilege doesn't come into the argument.
The Rev JOHN WILLIAMS
West Wittering, West Sussex
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