Rod Liddle answers blogosphere critics

Liddle blames the Guardian for the onslaught of criticism he has faced online

Rod Liddle hit back at his critics in the blogosphere on BBC Radio 5 Live this morning.

In the wake of controversies over alleged racism, sexism and climate change denial, the news that the Spectator columnist could be the next editor of the Independent has had a mixed reception.

His diplomatic yet enthusiastic comments on the editorship will no doubt fuel speculation that he is the heir apparent:

Any journalist would want to be editor of the Independent. It's a brilliant newspaper and the chance to edit a paper which was mischievous, which supported social justice, which gave voice to a wide variety of diverse opinions and did investigative journalism and breaking news stories -- I think that would be a wonderful thing to do. The Independent has got an editor at the moment, and he's a very good bloke, Roger Alton.

Stressing that he doesn't know what will happen, Liddle admitted that "I've talked to a couple of people". He said that the Independent should remain left-leaning, which "fits in with what my politics have always been".

Many would not agree. Liddle downplayed the strength of reaction against some of his comments, saying that it has come almost entirely from the Guardian (including the Facebook group protesting against the prospect of him editing the Indie, which, he said, mainly consists of Guardian readers. The group has 4,500 members).

On the allegations of racism, he said:

I loathe racism, I always have done. It's not nice to be called a racist. There are plenty of reasons to have a go at me without having to invent stuff.

But beyond this apparently upfront, blunt acceptance of criticism, Liddle was not pinned down. His interviewer, Radio 5's Kate Silverton, quoted the notorious blog where he said:

The overwhelming majority of street crime, knife crime, gun crime, robbery and crimes of sexual violence in London is carried out by young men from the African-Caribbean community. Of course, in return, we have rap music [and] goat curry.

Asked what point he was making here, Liddle oddly claimed it was not a racial one:

The point I was making was that there are certain crimes that can be described not by race, but by culture, age and gender.

He argued that we should be able to discuss multiculturalism without slinging the term "racist" around. This is valid, but it does not seem to apply here.

On the controversy over his comments on the Millwall Online fan site, he said that the Guardian news desk had intentionally taken his words out of context. He added that these forums were "sort of semi-private", a comment likely to puzzle the blogosphere.

If Silverton's tone was sometimes uncomfortably chummy (as pointed out by indignant Twitterers this morning), some balance was provided by the very angry weatherman who took Liddle to task for his comments about the Met Office.

He finished his attack by saying: "If the Independent falls into your hands, then you'll need to up your game before I switch my allegiance."

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Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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Harmful gender stereotypes in ads have real impact – so we're challenging them

The ASA must make sure future generations don't recoil at our commercials.

July’s been quite the month for gender in the news. From Jodie Whittaker’s casting in Doctor Who, to trains “so simple even women can drive them”, to how much the Beeb pays its female talent, gender issues have dominated. 

You might think it was an appropriate time for the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) to launch our own contribution to the debate, Depictions, Perceptions and Harm: a report on gender stereotypes in advertising, the result of more than a year’s careful scrutiny of the evidence base.

Our report makes the case that, while most ads (and the businesses behind them) are getting it right when it comes to avoiding damaging gender stereotypes, the evidence suggests that some could do with reigning it in a little. Specifically, it argues that some ads can contribute to real world harms in the way they portray gender roles and characteristics.

We’re not talking here about ads that show a woman doing the cleaning or a man the DIY. It would be most odd if advertisers couldn’t depict a woman doing the family shop or a man mowing the lawn. Ads cannot be divorced from reality.

What we’re talking about is ads that go significantly further by, for example, suggesting through their content and context that it’s a mum’s sole duty to tidy up after her family, who’ve just trashed the house. Or that an activity or career is inappropriate for a girl because it’s the preserve of men. Or that boys are not “proper” boys if they’re not strong and stoical. Or that men are hopeless at simple parental or household tasks because they’re, well...men.

Advertising is only a small contributor to gender stereotyping, but a contributor it is. And there’s ever greater recognition of the harms that can result from gender stereotyping. Put simply, gender stereotypes can lead us to have a narrower sense of ourselves – how we can behave, who we can be, the opportunities we can take, the decisions we can make. And they can lead other people to have a narrower sense of us too. 

That can affect individuals, whatever their gender. It can affect the economy: we have a shortage of engineers in this country, in part, says the UK’s National Academy of Engineering, because many women don’t see it as a career for them. And it can affect our society as a whole.

Many businesses get this already. A few weeks ago, UN Women and Unilever announced the global launch of Unstereotype Alliance, with some of the world’s biggest companies, including Proctor & Gamble, Mars, Diageo, Facebook and Google signing up. Advertising agencies like JWT and UM have very recently published their own research, further shining the spotlight on gender stereotyping in advertising. 

At the ASA, we see our UK work as a complement to an increasingly global response to the issue. And we’re doing it with broad support from the UK advertising industry: the Committees of Advertising Practice (CAP) – the industry bodies which author the UK Advertising Codes that we administer – have been very closely involved in our work and will now flesh out the standards we need to help advertisers stay on the right side of the line.

Needless to say, our report has attracted a fair amount of comment. And commentators have made some interesting and important arguments. Take my “ads cannot be divorced from reality” point above. Clearly we – the UK advertising regulator - must take into account the way things are, but what should we do if, for example, an ad is reflecting a part of society as it is now, but that part is not fair and equal? 

The ad might simply be mirroring the way things are, but at a time when many people in our society, including through public policy and equality laws, are trying to mould it into something different. If we reign in the more extreme examples, are we being social engineers? Or are we simply taking a small step in redressing the imbalance in a society where the drip, drip, drip of gender stereotyping over many years has, itself, been social engineering. And social engineering which, ironically, has left us with too few engineers.

Read more: Why new rules on gender stereotyping in ads benefit men, too

The report gave news outlets a chance to run plenty of well-known ads from yesteryear. Fairy Liquid, Shake 'n' Vac and some real “even a woman can open it”-type horrors from decades ago. For some, that was an opportunity to make the point that ads really were sexist back then, but everything’s fine on the gender stereotyping front today. That argument shows a real lack of imagination. 

History has not stopped. If we’re looking back at ads of 50 years ago and marvelling at how we thought they were OK back then, despite knowing they were products of their time, won’t our children and grandchildren be doing exactly the same thing in 50 years’ time? What “norms” now will seem antiquated and unpleasant in the future? We think the evidence points to some portrayals of gender roles and characteristics being precisely such norms, excused by some today on the basis that that’s just the way it is.

Our report signals that change is coming. CAP will now work on the standards so we can pin down the rules and official guidance. We don’t want to catch advertisers out, so we and CAP will work hard to provide as much advice and training as we can, so they can get their ads right in the first place. And from next year, we at the ASA will make sure those standards are followed, taking care that our regulation is balanced and wholly respectful of the public’s desire to continue to see creative ads that are relevant, entertaining and informative. 

You won’t see a sea-change in the ads that appear, but we hope to smooth some of the rougher edges. This is a small but important step in making sure modern society is better represented in ads.

Guy Parker is CEO of the ASA