A sort-of victory for freedom of speech

It took the Peace of Westphalia to calm that other Thirty Years War, between Hapsburgs and Bourbons. What was it going to take to calm this one, between the House of Wapping and the Wharf of Canary?

Piers Morgan suing The Sun for calling him "a disgrace to journalism… a menace to free society"? David Yelland suing The Mirror for bracketing him with Hitler, Stalin and Bin Laden? (Morgan somehow held back from adding Mussolini, the last editor to end up hanging from a lamp-post.)

The Sun attacked The Mirror as "disgusting, obscene and treacherous rubbish". Morgan responded to its "SHAME OF THE TRAITORS" spread with: "People who attack freedom of speech are the REAL traitors." The Sun was an "offensive, sexist racist, misogynist, tawdry, lying, little rag".

All great knockabout stuff. And what did it demonstrate but that freedom of speech was not at all in peril?

Indeed, our leading red-tops were between them providing abundant evidence of freedom to criticise the war or opposition to the war. Freedom to criticise the criticism and the critics. And freedom of editors to knock each other’s caps off.

The key to free expression (whether vulgar abuse or iambic pentameter) is multiplicity of rival newspapers. Freedom does not depend on any one national allowing equal space to opposite views. Nor decreeing that its letters page honestly reflects the volume of dissent. Nor ensuring that its leaders include a section beginning, "On the other hand…"

So it surely could not be long before both Daily Morgan and Daily Yelland received counselling from on high that papers sacrifice authority when used as weapons in personal feuds between editors. And that publicising your competitor is a good way to aid his circulation.

We had The Mirror virtually advising readers rooting for the war that they would be more at home with The Sun. While that title was virtually advising wobbly readers that the The Mirror was their cup of tea.

Moreover, mystified punters needed to buy the opposition to discover just what their paper of choice was on about. How else might they keep up with subtleties such as why The Mirror was monstering Jack Straw. Explanation: the Foreign Secretary had blessed The Sun for steadfast support (unlike certain other papers he could mention).

The Mirror lobbed in a further rant from John Pilger. It was yet further proof that freedom of expression is still alive and kicking up hell. No problem.

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