PC: it's more than a matter of manners

A book on political correctness claims it stifles free discussion. Tim Luckhurst asks media figures whether they agree that too many topics are now off-limits
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The Independent Online

Peter Horrocks HEAD OF BBC TV NEWS

There are problems with reporting what are considered to be aberrant views. Consensus can work to exclude certain ideas. It is not about being restricted by external forces, but I think that perhaps people can exclude certain ideas from debate because they do not feel comfortable including them and that they do sometimes limit themselves. The issue of race is an obvious one. The BBC has an employment culture which must, rightly, encourage diversity and within which editors work as managers. But they must also reflect a wider range of opinions in their journalism. There can be a conflict between internal policy and reflecting a full range of views.


Inevitably, one might be cautious sometimes, but maybe that is politeness. I am never restrained by PC, and there always has to be a strong positive reason for not running something, especially by people who are paid to offend one set of people or another, otherwise they wouldn't make good columnists. But clearly you would be mad to offend people gratuitously. If PC means anything to me, it is not being gratuitously offensive to people or institutions, and not abusing one's position as a newspaper. Anthony Browne is right to point out that some areas in our society are easier to discuss than others, and this is a pity and should be changed.

David Aaronovitch 'TIMES' COLUMNIST

I have never felt constrained in what I write, but at 'The Guardian' a number of suggestions were made to me that I had never heard before and some colleagues did complain to my section editor about an article. I was once told never to offend Catholics because apparently they never forgive you. But there is an equally powerful countervailing force at other newspapers not to be politically correct. When my wife made a programme for 'Panorama' about how children did if both parents went out to work she was attacked. Research showed that they did less well but there was a sense that you could not say that because it might help the enemy.


The importance of Anthony Browne's book is that he understands PC as an assault on truth and an abuse of power. As a journalist, I am in the happy position of being asked to sound off about a whole range of subjects. But that does not apply to everyone. The presentation of certain issues is wildly distorted by PC. One is not prevented from speaking, it is a climate of intimidation. If you say certain things you are vilified.That is pernicious and it does affect the way things are reported. PC is about shutting down debate.


The big mistake people make is to describe PC as liberal. It is not remotely liberal. It is extremely constricting. There are many things I have hesitated to write as a result. I think Islam is a vicious, repressive religion and I have no respect for it. But I think it is now illegal to say that. I thought long and hard before drawing a picture of Mohammed for 'The Spectator'. In the end I did it in a very cowardly way by drawing five identical stick men with a question mark beside each, so maybe it wasn't him after all.


Anthony Browne's book is dreadful and full of lies. Eighty per cent of our newspapers are anti-PC. There is no area that is not up for discussion. I do not believe that people go around on their tiptoes afraid to offend women or ethnic minorities.But we have become worse at the exchange of ideas. We are not good any more at having really honest debates without upsetting people. We have become very good at abusive, hysterical exchanges and less good at intelligent debate. We do need to develop a healthy trade in ideas.