Even today, on the 28th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster, I have mixed feelings about the decision of the Sun ‘newspaper’ to suspend columnist Kelvin MacKenzie for his latest comments about Liverpool. On 15 April 1989, 96 football fans went to a football match and never went home. MacKenzie, then the Sun’s editor, ran a series of sick and depraved articles about how the fans were to blame, how they pickpocketed
and urinated on the bereaved. Many of us will never forgive MacKenzie, the Sun and its owner Rupert Murdoch for their actions. Nothing and no amount of apologies can undo what was done. Now MacKenzie has been at it again and this time he has been “suspended” after comparing Ross Barkley, who has a Nigerian grandfather, to a “gorilla” and describing Liverpudlians as “convicts and drug dealers”. Is suspending MacKenzie the right thing to do?
There is no doubt in my mind that MacKenzie set out to deliberately offend the people of Liverpool. As we have already noted, he has plenty of history in that department. But were his comments about Barkley racist? Undoubtedly, yes. I am a humble blogger, not a hack at the best selling newspaper in the land, but even I knew that Barkley has Nigerian heritage. I simply cannot believe that MacKenzie didn’t know this or that the copy editors wouldn’t be aware of it. The point is that someone, somewhere would have known, and yet it was still published. This is one reason why MacKenzie’s suspension and subsequent half-hearted apology won’t wash. It’s institutional at the Sun.
Suspending its most odious columnist doesn’t change the Sun one iota. Every single day of the week, the Sun is full of venom and vitriol at a wide variety of targets. Their attitude towards Hillsborough was, and remains, their lowest point but let’s not pretend it was an isolated incident. Look at the people they have employed over the years, from MacKenzie, Richard Littlejohn, Katie Hopkins, Trevor Kavanagh and many more whose sole purpose is to spread hate and loathing. The Sun’s hatred is permanent. The vile attacks on Liverpool are a major part of the story, but not the whole story. Which brings me back to Kelvin MacKenzie.
I do not know how MacKenzie, or anyone at the Sun, is able to live with their coverage of Hillsborough. Knowing what I know now about the lies, the cover up, the long fight for justice, I would not be able to sleep if I had written anything like what appeared and continues to appear in the Sun. And what does MacKenzie do? He pens another vicious attack, including racism, against Liverpool and its people. The man has no conscience at all. But here is the problem: we live in what is supposedly a free country. Shouldn’t people be allowed to say what they want, so long as it is legal, even if it is absolutely disgusting? My answer is an unequivocal yes.
Whether MacKenzie writes his poison in the Sun or anywhere else, it doesn’t matter. I think he is the lowest form of life imaginable and I weep for the majority of decent, honest and principled journalists who remain. In a free country, people like MacKenzie should not be banned from expressing their views, but we, the Great British Public, should exercise our choice in whether we read it and more importantly buy it. In a society like our, money talks and the one thing that might – and I only say might – influence the content and tone of Rupert Murdoch’s best selling newspaper is for people stop buying it.
Of course, I understand why people want to see MacKenzie sacked and the Sun banned but this is potentially a slippery slope. Part of living in a free country is the freedom to offend and the freedom to be offended, whether they be those who lie and offend about disasters like Hillsborough or islamic fascists who want to kill people for drawing and publishing cartoons.
You do not need to look very far on the internet to find that actually MacKenzie enjoys a surprising degree of support for what he is saying. This is not surprising given the angry and divided state of our country today. I will not repeat the kind of things I have read about Liverpool and Hillsborough today, but trust me some of them make MacKenzie appear to be the model of moderation.
More important today to remember what happened at Hillsborough on 15 April 1989. I know exactly where I was that day and I remember exactly how stunned and upset I was. The families of the victims have had to carry that around for 28 years and justice has still not been done.
The empty rhetoric of a washed-up, bitter and twisted journalist, writing for a nasty, populist rag of the far right cannot deflect us from the main business of the day. The tragedy of Hillsborough will be remembered for far longer the polemic of a pound shop journalist who believes it’s all right to write anything so long as it sells papers. That is not the world in which I live and I only wish there was a hell for Kelvin MacKenzie to one day go to. In the meantime, just don’t buy anything in which he writes. That will hurt him and his paymasters more than anything else.