Padraig Reidy: Imagine being Katie Hopkins

(Illustration courtesy Ben Jennings)

(Illustration courtesy of Ben Jennings)

What if your job, your career, was winding up an entire nation?

That’s it. Sure, you have a column in a national newspaper. But what can you really do with it? You can’t really share your thoughts on the common toad, or tell delightful stories about your children misunderstanding foreign words, much less offer some insight into the workings of the modern world. Sure, you can chuck the odd piece of light relief in the sidebar or the basement, but that’s not what people are here for. We’ve come to your column to be thrilled by your outrageous views, and thrilled we will be.

Last time round it was people giving food to, and receiving food from, charity.

“SAY the words food bank” La Dolce ‘Opkina began, “and I am supposed to put on my concerned face and proffer up a can of beans.”

Where’s this going Katie? Where could this possibly be going?

“But all I’ve found in the back of my cupboard is two fingers. And they don’t belong to a Kit Kat.”

BOOM! Gotcha. I mean, it makes no sense. If it’s the fingers at the end of her arm she’s using, why are they in the back of the cupboard? Unless, maybe, she is SO outrageous that she keeps a special V-flipping apparatus in her cupboard, as her doctor has advised her that the constant extension and retraction of her index and middle finger was putting her in serious risk of chronic RSI. But then, if you were using it that much, you wouldn’t keep it in the back of the cupboard. You’d have it on the hall table, perhaps. Or in a little belt-mounted pouch, like a techie’s mobile phone, ready to unleash, cosh-style, upon passing do-gooders, bed-wetters, namby-pambies, oiks, poshos, hippies, liberal elitists, ignorant yokels, EUROCRATS, trendy vicars, Trots, gypsies, useless husbands, trashy wives, “gay rights” activists, lesbo-feminists and everyone else you might bump into at a reasonably-sized community festival in a reasonably-sized town.

It must be exhausting keeping track of this roll call of resentment. It must be wearing to have to be angry every week. How draining to have a public persona dedicated to hating everything and everyone.

And then there is the fact that outrage is a substance which can be addictive, but to which people can also develop a considerable tolerance. In order to keep us interested — and quite possibly to keep herself interested also — Hopkins has to keep upping the dose, until eventually we get to the point where she’s describing poor African people drowning in the sea as cockroaches and everyone suddenly stops and thinks “oh”.

The problem the serial controversialist who has nothing else to trade on faces is that the only way to go is down. The very nature of the job and the stuff you are peddling means you must, inevitably, end up overstepping the mark. In the case of Jeremy Clarkson, a carnival of boorishness ended in violence, where it had to. Hopkins seems to have survived, but she’s Zugzwanged herself: tone down the schtick and she becomes pointless; the only other move available is directly into the abyss. This is the fate of the wind-up merchant.

The exception to this rule is the satirist. The essential difference between the satirist and the controversialist is that the controversialist puts herself forward, from the beginning, as the stoic truthteller, striving alone in a world gone mad. Controversialists tend to be declinists: the world is steadily getting worse. The converse of this is the belief that at some point, usually in the period of the controversialist’s late adolescence, the world was right.

Satirists hold out no such (perverse) hope. The world is awful, the world has always been awful, and the only way to get through it is to laugh and hope we can make some tweaks around the edges. It is curious then, that from Private Eye to Charlie Hebdo, satire is often linked to campaigning journalism in the same publication.

Charlie has once again been in the news after several US-based authors refused to take part in a gala in honour of the magazine hosted by PEN American Center.

The writers’ heckles were raised by what they saw as racist cartoons run by Charlie in the past. Among these were one of a black politician portrayed as a monkey, and Nigeria girl victims of Boko Haram portrayed as “welfare queens”. Of course, at face value, these seem racist (though it is worth noting that it was not racist cartoons that saw Charlie’s staff slain: it was cartoons that refused to obey religious taboo).

What the US critics failed to acknowledge was that all satire is reactive: the cartoons did not simply spring unprompted from the cartoonists’ pens. The case of the ape cartoon was a reaction to far right portrayals of the minister, and the accompanying text very clearly mocked the Front National’s leader Marine Le Pen. As Irish novelist and Charlie columnist Robert McLiam Wilson pointed out:

“Without the snipped-off text underneath, and the knowledge of the lamentable tosh it was lampooning, of course Charlie would seem racist. It would seem racist to me too. But to strip the image of its fundamental components like this is akin to saying the incomparable Jonathan Swift was a baby-eating Nazi and that A Modest Proposal was actually a cookbook.”

Satire must toy with what it sets out to mock: otherwise it is meaningless and unintelligible. Sometimes the controversy of the likes of Hopkins and the irony of Charlie can look, at first glance, identical.

And sometimes not: While Hopkins was describing “cockroaches” drowning in the Mediterranean, Charlie was echoing the refrain of many: “A Titanic every week,” with a cartoon depicting a white woman singing My Heart Will Go On while a despairing migrant begs her to “shut up” (Ta Guelle).

Bracing? Sure. But humanising, too. As satire should be and controversialism never is.

This column was posted on 30 April 2015 at

Padraig Reidy: George Galloway’s dear tweeter letters

George Galloway's lawyers have written to Twitter users who retweeted a Hadley Freeman comment.

George Galloway’s lawyers have written to Twitter users who retweeted a Hadley Freeman tweet.

TV presenter George Galloway has taken to wearing a black fedora, indoors. I know this, because I have seen him doing so on at least one of his TV shows.

It’s a strange look, somewhere between a puffy Nathan Detroit, though combined with a black suit and white shirt, the hat also evokes Robert Mitchum’s chilling Harry Powell in Night of the Hunter.

Why has George Galloway started wearing a hat indoors? What has taken hold of him? What kind of person wears a hat indoors anyway? The only people who really get away with being pictured in hats, indoors and out, are National Hunt trainers and rabbis. And come to think of it, you rarely see a National Hunt trainer indoors. They’re usually outside, training horses, or watching horse races or being interviewed about how well (or sometimes poorly) their horse did in the race.

I can say with relative certainty that Galloway is not a National Hunt trainer. I am a bit more nervous about declaring whether or not he is a rabbi. Issues between George and some Jewish people being fraught of late, I would not like anyone to think that an assertion of Galloway’s non-rabbiness was a suggestion of anything else.

Galloway has been in the news after his solicitors issued letters demanding apologies from various people who tweeted and retweeted a comment by Guardian columnist Hadley Freeman, who had tweeted about Galloway having “said and done” things she believed “crossed the line” between being “anti-Israel” and “anti-Semitic”.

Galloway tweeted that he would sue. Freeman offered to delete the tweet (and subsequently did). But all in vain: Galloway had made his mind up, telling Freeman “too late”. He also warned others against retweeting Freeman’s original post. Subsequently it has emerged that Galloway’s lawyers are writing to Twitter users demanding not just an apology, but £5000+VAT by varying dates in March to cover the cost of sending the letter.

The solicitors firm, Chambers of Bradford, are not widely known as libel specialists. You would think, given the changes in libel laws in recent years, that one would make sure your lawyers knew what they were doing.

Chambers appear to be focused on immigration, serious crime and fraud and personal injury, among other topics. But above all, they are, according to their own website “calculated risk takers”, who are “not afraid to take on challenges that would daunt many others”.

They boast that their ethos “is to ensure that the ordinary person has access to good quality legal advice as public bodies, insurance companies & multi-national companies which has led us to take on many ‘David & Goliath’ legal struggles for justice”.

This does not seem to tie in with the pursuit of one Twitter user who received a letter from Chambers demanding money. That person, with only 70 followers on Twitter, told the Guardian: “I’m not a politician. I’m not remotely influential. I deleted it. I have been suffering terrible health problems [since receiving the letter]. I’m on antidepressants and suffering from chest pains.”

Chambers’ apparent risk-taking, would seem to have backfired rather spectacularly.

Private Eye magazine said it had “drawn the letter to the attention of the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) which takes a dim view of this sort of ‘speculative invoicing’”.

Meanwhile, lawyers including David Allen Green, Mark Lewis and Mark Stephens, vastly experienced in free speech, libel and privacy, have been offering support to the recipients of the letters. Some lawyers are apparently working with the people behind the “SuedByGalloway” twitter account, which is giving anonymous advice.

Mark Lewis commented “Mr Galloway’s spokesman says that the letters weren’t shown to the client before they were sent. That is a matter of practise and the SRA must investigate”. (McKay has subsequently told Index on Censorship that Mr Galloway had seen the letters, and it was McKay who had not).*

There is a temptation to think what might happen if all these cases — since each tweet is a separate action — did come to court. As with all libel cases, a lot is down to semantics: what exactly does Freeman’s original tweet really mean? Does it mean what Galloway’s solicitors letters’ take it to mean?

And then there is the context of the Defamation Act 2013, which requires that a claimant show that a statement “has caused or is likely to cause serious harm to the reputation of the claimant”.

Moreover, there is the new defence of “honest opinion”, in which a defendant need not prove the absolute truth of the statement (on a topic such as this, how could one do that?) but that he or she sincerely held the view stated as an opinion, and that an honest person “could have held the opinion on the basis of any fact which existed at the time the statement complained of was published”.

It would be genuinely interesting to see if and how a court could draw a line between “staunch anti-Zionism” and anti-Semitism, but in the end, I’m not sure how much use it would be for anyone. Most hate-crime laws already come down to circumstance and perception, just as libel cases, and particularly those involving unprovable abstracts, can only really come down to people’s individual views.

This case is just a manifestation of the usual Galloway bluster. It’s entirely feasible that he was insulted by Freeman’s comment, but his pursuit of her and the people who retweeted her, even after apologies and deletions, is petty and thin-skinned. It is not the behaviour of a gentleman. But then, neither is wearing a hat indoors.

* This article was updated on March 5, 2015, to reflect that Ron McKay told Index on Censorship that Galloway had seen the solicitors’ letters before they were sent

This column was posted on March 5, 2015 at

Pippa and Britain’s parody problem

Pippa Middleton is reported to have threatened legal action against a spoof twitter account and book. But a recent study claims that parody has cultural and economic benefits for Britain, and the government is set to loosen copyright laws, allowing people to freely use others’ creations for comedy.

Goodbye to LOLs? Pippa Middleton is reported to have taken legal action against a spoof twitter account (Pic Angus Mordant/Demotix)

Goodbye to LOLs? Pippa Middleton is reported to have taken legal action against a spoof twitter account (Pic Angus Mordant/Demotix)

I’m fairly certain I’m the only person I know who owns a copy of Pippa Middleton’s Celebrate. I’m not even entirely sure why I own it.

It’s not actually a terrible book. Well, not that bad. At times it does seem that Pippa’s specialist subject on Celebrity Mastermind would be The Obvious, yes (ice makes things cold, that kind of thing). But recently a friend came for lunch, and we cooked a very nice salad from Pippa’s book.  I know not whether Pippa wrote the recipe herself or not. I don’t care very much who wrote it either. It was nice.

Until recent newspaper reports, I had no idea who was behind PippaTips, the Twitter account that poked fun Middleton’s more pedestrian pieces of advice (“#PippaTip: dressing up in nice clothes is a stylish way to look great at a party”). Again, I wasn’t hugely concerned. It was a reasonably amusing twitter feed, but I didn’t hang on every update.

Which is why I failed to notice it had been inactive for a month.

This lack of tips is apparently due to an ongoing legal shemozzle between Pippa Middleton and Icon Books, the publishers of “When One is Expecting: A Posh Person’s Guide to Pregnancy and Parenting”, authored by “the creators of @Pippatips (Mat Morrisroe and Suzanne Azzopardi, for the record).

The parody pregnancy guide is doing reasonably well on Amazon (one reviewer does describe it as “not much more than a posh version of the Top Tips section/books of Viz magazine” – which is actually high comedy praise indeed).

According to the Daily Mail, Pippa’s lawyers are pursuing the creators of this gentle joshing for “passing off” – that is, marketing the book and Twitter account as actually written by Ms Middleton – but the exact nature of the action remains unclear.

Is it possible that Pippa’s lawyers Harbottle and Lewis are threatening litigation not just for passing off, but possibly also for defamation? When questioned by Index, a spokeswoman for the firm said it was the firm’s policy “not to comment on client matters”.

A defamation case seems unlikely, but it’s not unknown for lawyers to raise the idea in order to strike the fear of God into publishers.

In 2010, at the height of the MPs expenses scandal, the Barclay Brothers, owners of the Telegraph newspapers, threatened to sue Private Eye magazine for a joke about the brothers’ tax status.

Private Eye said that this was their first ever libel threat for a joke. But has the magazine famous for its spoof columns by politicians, hacks and celebs ever faced action for “passing off”? “The answer is no” came the simple reply from editor Ian Hislop when Index inquired.

The most infamous “passing off” case of recent years was that of Conservative politician and diarist Alan Clarke versus the Evening Standard, in 1998. The Standard ran a spoof column headlined The Secret Diary of Alan Clarke. Clarke took umbrage, and in spite of the fact that the column was obviously a joke (along the lines of the Guardian’s Samantha Cameron spoof column Mrs Cameron’s Diary), Clarke won his court case, with the judge absurdly ruling that because the paper was largely read by commuters who wouldn’t really be paying attention as they fought to defend their space on the evening train home, it was possible that people would think the articles were genuine.

It seems clear that the PippaTips account and book are parodies: even the Twitter bio states “clearly a parody”, and the book does not make any claim to be written by Middleton herself.

Does Middleton have a case to make then? According to the Intellectual Property Office, “passing off” cases hinge on whether:

• you have established a reputation in  your mark;

• the use you are complaining of  would be likely to confuse or deceive the public; and

• the use would be likely to damage your business and goodwill.

These matters are up for debate. Publishing lawyer Bernie Nyman says that he can see no evidence that Pippa Middleton has trademarked her name.

Are the public likely to be confused or deceived? Unlikely. As we’ve seen, there is no claim that the book is authored by Pippa Middleton, and the twitter account is marked as parody. Twitter’s own rules say that “You may not impersonate others through the Twitter service in a manner that does or is intended to mislead, confuse, or deceive others”.

If the account had done so, then it is likely it would be suspended by Twitter, and yet it remains.

Nyman says he thinks the account authors have “done enough to give themselves an arguable case that it’s not passing off.”

Furthermore, says Nyman, “there is no question of copyright infringement, as far as I’m aware.”

As to the question of whether Middleton is likely to damage Middleton’s business or goodwill, a recent study on online parody and satire suggests that the opposite is true.

Evaluating The Impact of Parody, commissioned by the Intellectual Property Office, and led by Dr Kris Erickson of Bournemouth University, found that there was no evidence that YouTube parodies caused any damage to earning potential of artists; indeed, the most parodied artists were often the most successful.

The study states: “We have evaluated two potential sources of economic harm – substitution and reputational effects – finding no compelling evidence that parody is damaging to the original in terms of the latter’s ability to attract and monetise an audience via the online platform.”

In fact, the study suggests that “enabling user-generated content such as parody could have positive economic benefits for the UK. Instead of an economic justification for limiting parody content, we find compelling reasons to promote the creation of more parody content based on UK works.”

And this is not just the case for YouTube: the researchers suggest that while further work may need to be carried out on “TV, print, photography and interactive games”, they hope the insight can be “drawn and applied to other markets.”

Britain currently does not have an exemption for parody in copyright law, despite the fact that the European Union’s directive on copyright does allow for such an exemption. The IPO is suggesting that the UK does just that. Vince Cable announced late in 2012 that there was a possibility this could happen, and the IPO has now come up with drafting of amendments to the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, which would specifically protect fair usage of other artists’ material in parody – whether that be “weapon parody” – parody used to make a point, or “target parody” often directed at the original artist.

In a statement, the IPO told Index:

“Government has announced its intention to introduce a new copyright exception to allow certain acts of parody, caricature and pastiche, and has published draft legislation to this effect. Once finalised the changes will form part of a package of provisions to be laid before Parliament later in the year.”

All this, though, pertains to parodies where original material has been copied but altered for parodic purposes: Downfall videos, for example, or one of the hundreds of versions of Adele’s Rolling In The Deep marked as “parody” on YouTube.

But the people behind @pippatips did not actually use anything but their own material, in a pastiche of the style and tone of Middleton’s book.

In a recent LRB article, novelist Jonathan Coe suggested that the prevalence of satire was in fact neutering British political and cultural life, sending the country, as Peter Cook put it, “giggling into the sea”. But even with the proposed reforms to copyright laws governing parody, satire is still clearly seen as a threat by the UK establishment.

In 2011, Britons were surprised to discover that film footage of parliamentary debates is not allowed to be used for satirical purposes. This information arose after an episode of the US political satire programme The Daily Show was pulled from UK television because it contained footage from a parliamentary debate on the phone hacking scandal. As the New Statesman’s Helen Lewis pointed out , “Americans can make fun of what happens in our parliament but we can’t”.

And while Private Eye may only ever have had one libel threat over a joke, Eye journalist and author of the magazine’s official history Adam McQueen says that “people have written letters to editor over the years making it clear that they aren’t really like what was said about them in the jokes section.”

Satire, pastiche and parody are widely held to be part of what makes Britain great. But it seems not everyone is willing to exercise their right to laugh and be laughed at.

Padraig Reidy is senior writer at Index on Censorship. @mePadraigReidy

Why did CDC want to censor Private Eye journalist?

Private Eye journalist Richard Brooks is claiming he’s been the victim of attempts at censorship by CDC (formerly the Commonwealth Development Corporation).

Brooks has written several articles for the Eye criticising CDC’s involvement in private equity funds. He had hoped to attend the launch of the CDC’s 2009 Development Review Launch on 16 June. He was told that the launch was a private event and the CDC had no obligation to admit him, a stance Brooks saw as contrary to “the new government’s commitment to transparency in development funding”.

After a lengthy email exchange, Brooks eventually got the message that CDC definitely didn’t want him there, so decided to print his own leaflet of his work on CDC and hand them out outside the event. Brook’s work on the privatisation of part of CDC won a Paul Foot Award in 2008.

So off Brooks went to last night’s launch. An angry confrontation with CDC staff ensued, before Brooks’s knight in shining armour arrived — no less than Sir Bob Geldof, who described Brooks’s exclusion as “outrageous”.

So after all this, Brooks got to attend the launch, listen to some speeches and go home. Rather a lot of fuss, eh?