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Peter Rippon | 10:42 UK time, Friday, 28 July 2006

As an editor, I do worry about being too politically correct in our coverage. However, I also worry about being offensive.

The PM programme logoIt was with those thoughts in mind that we approached the story about the firefighters threatened with disciplinary action for refusing to hand out leaflets at a Gay Pride event.

The story was complicated because the firemen (or do I mean firefighters?) were not willing to talk, so we had no idea why they took the action they did. It could be blatant homophobia, or there could have been other reasons. The men could argue they are not homophobic, they just felt uncomfortable. It was suggested that there is tradition of firemen being seen as sex objects by some in the gay community... just Google "gay" and "fireman". In sexual harassment cases, "harassment" is defined by the impact on the recipient and not by the intention of the person accused of the behaviour.

We discussed following this line with the Stonewall campaigner we were interviewing on the programme (hear it here). In the end Carolyn Quinn settled for suggesting that the men might have felt awkward or embarrassed. We did not develop the argument, partly because there were other interesting angles to explore, but also because we felt the guest could reasonably be expected to find such gross stereotyping offensive.

Peter Rippon is editor of PM and Broadcasting House


You don't think that the firefighters could argue that the handing out of leaflets is outwith the terms of their contracts, and that they are well within their rights to not do something that is not - in and of itself - anything to do with firefighting?

  • 2.
  • At 02:44 PM on 28 Jul 2006,
  • sas wrote:

I think spreading fire prevention measures are part of a fire brigade's duties. If I remember correctly, some years ago there was an outcry over plans to pay fire brigades based on the number of callouts, which would of course penalise those most successful at spreading preventive measures, so I'd assume that handing out leaflets at any event is part of what's expected of people in the fire service.

As for the "tradition of firemen being seen as sex objects", isn't this common to both sexes?

  • 3.
  • At 02:48 PM on 28 Jul 2006,
  • Peter wrote:

As I understand it, the firefighters were to attend to distribute community safety advice since presumably the event would attract a large crowd.

Therefore the firefighters shouldn't be able to pick and choose which events they attend, if there is a valid fire safety message to be conveyed. Everybody is entitled to such information, regardless of which society group you "belong" to.

And as for being worried about turning up in uniform, it is very doubtfull they would have been present in full overalls and helmet. Anybody who's watched Londons Burning or similar knows that there are several uniforms, from very formal to the brigade t-shirt and trousers that would seem appropriate in a relaxed setting.

  • 4.
  • At 03:03 PM on 28 Jul 2006,
  • Mark wrote:

An editor worrying about being offensive? If you say anything worth listening to, you will likely offend someone. So are you talking about tailoring your words through self censorship to maintain the greatest possible audience by offending the fewest people? That may be good business policy but it isn't very good journalism. When the truth hurts, that's when honest reporting is needed most.

Your position on the flip side of the coin about political correctness is equally distressing. When political correctness becomes any consideraton at all, that also leads to self censorship.

So which do you find more uncomfortable, news where political correctness and offensiveness collide or when they are in alignment? As soon as you succumb to those notions, honest journalism will inevitably become the victim by falling on this double edged sword.

  • 5.
  • At 08:13 PM on 28 Jul 2006,
  • miika wrote:

If the leaflets were to do with their job, and fire prevention, then they're not exactly in a position to choose where they will or won't hand them out. They're professionals, their personal views shouldn't be allowed to interfere with the performance of their jobs.

-If- they were fire prevention leaflets, it raises the question of what other parts of their job they'd allow their personal opinions to interfere with.

If they weren't related to the job, then they're under no obligation to hand them out, and certainly can't be coerced into doing something outside of their job regardless of the environment or circumstances. They sign up for a job, not totalitarian control.

Could their reticence to speak to the media on the subject be a condition placed on them by their employer? I know that it's become fashionable of late to quote statements from "people wo wish to remain nameless because they're not authorized to speak to the press" ... which is amusing in and of itself ... but you might have found actually people who aren't and so won't.

As for politically correct ... please don't be. Orwell's got enough "I told you so's" banked up without the BBC making Newsspeak the current news speak.

So firemen are seen by people as sexy?

So what?

Alot of women and alot of men find firemen attractive.

They should be flattered.

I am a gay man and I asked a bartender out for a drink recently, mistakenly assuming he is gay.

"Sorry I'm straight, but thank you, I am very flattered," he said.

THAT is the attitude nervous, insecure straight men should adopt.

It's the height of arrogance for some straight ment to think that if they are in the presence of gay men they will automatically be propositioned.

And even if a gay man did approach one of the firemen a simple 'thanks but I'm straight' is all a gay man needs in order to, well, get it straight.


Have to admit I do ADORE a man in uniform, though.

  • 7.
  • At 06:31 PM on 30 Jul 2006,
  • double standards wrote:

Correct me if I'm wrong, but don't these Gay Pride marches go against the "we're no different from anyone else" mantra that groups like Stonewall and Outrage spout? Or is that just referring to negative treatment only?

  • 8.
  • At 10:26 AM on 03 Sep 2006,
  • Mel Jeffs wrote:

While I am dismayed at the attitude of the fireman, I'm not sure it is appropriate in this case to take such stern disciplinary action against them. You cannot force people to go against their beliefs - whether those beliefs are right or wrong. I would have thought education would be more appropriate than taking the sledge-hammer approach (which is also perhaps more likely to simply make them dig their heels in even further). The attitude of the Catholic church is no great surprise - this just gives them even more fuel for their fire.

And by the way, I am gay myself and wouldn't want people forced to attend Pride against their will.

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