A petition calling for BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg to be sacked prompted condemnation from the Prime Minister in parliament after it was “hijacked” by “sexist trolls”.
The petition, titled Sack Laura Kuenssberg, was removed from open platform website 38 Degrees on Tuesday afternoon by its author, known only as Joe, despite gaining 33,375 signatures.
He appears to have claimed that the journalist had been weighted against Labour in her political reports and biased in favour of the ruling Conservative Party. Claims contested even by some of the party’s own MPs.
In a statement on the website Joe said he had been “trying to raise a serious issue” but the campaign had been “hijacked by a group of people who absolutely do not share my views”. He added: “As a result of the sexist trolls who have attempted to derail my petition, I have decided to take it down. “
Lucy Allan, Conservative MP for Telford, made explicit reference to the petition in yesterday’s Prime Minister’s Questions and asked David Cameron to condemn online harassment.
She said: “Respected journalist Laura Kuenssberg has been subjected to an online hate campaign which appears to be a sexist witch hunt to silence her. Increasingly this is a tool used against people in public life by those who take an opposing view.
“Will my right honourable friend condemn this kind of harassment and will he work with media and social media platforms to preserve the right to speak freely without intimidation or hate?”
In reply, Cameron said: “We must be able to speak freely and we must have a robust and lively democracy but some of the things people say on Twitter, knowing that they are in some way anonymous, are frankly appalling and people should be ashamed of the sort of sexist bullying that often takes place.”
Other high profile politicians and public figures also joined in condemning the petition against Kuenssberg, who tweets under @bbclaurak, speaking out not just against the sexism that saw it taken down but also its fundamental claims of bias.
Labour’s Chuka Umunna, MP for Streatham in London, tweeted: “Those purporting to be Labour who subjected @bbclaurak to sexist and hateful abuse clearly have no understanding of our values.”
Jess Phillips, Labour MP for Birmingham Yardley, tweeted: “I have to say, I think attack on @bbclaurak is underlined with institutional sexism by people who dont even know they are perpetrators.”
Channel 4 news presenter Cathy Newman said on Twitter: “Glad sexist petition calling on BBC to sack @bbclaurak has been removed. A great reporter doing a great job.”
A spokesman for 38 degrees said it supported the author’s decision to take the petition down, although it had not in itself breached moderation standards on the site.
He said that in the seven years the website had been up and running it had “never had this issue before”, adding: “The abuse that was ongoing we don’t want to happen, but at the same time people need a platform for them to air their views.
“That’s why we were set up. So there is a tension but that’s something that people who run online platforms have to wrestle with. We have engaged with our members on how that decision is made so that’s been a very open and transparent process.”
Press Gazette has approached Laura Kuenssberg for comment.