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It’s been a bad week for dinosaurs in the UK: Claridges, the UKIP leader and the license fee black hole that is Jeremy Clarkson all managed to bimble into a conversation they were singularly unqualified to have and then compounded their position by ignoring the Third Rule of Life:

When in a ditch, stop digging

Like many other nursing mothers, I posted nursing pictures on Twitter and wrote to The Sun and it’s about those words that I write this post.

Because I received a reply:
Your complaint: ‘Not the Breast Place’,  by Jeremy Clarkson, Saturday 6th December

Please forgive this general response to your complaint. We have had numerous complaints about Jeremy Clarkson’s column item on Saturday about breast feeding and I wanted you to know The Sun’s position on this.
To be perfectly clear, this was Jeremy Clarkson’s opinion and not the Sun’s opinion, contrary to what many of you believe.  That very same day, in the ‘leader’ column (which is where you can read what the newspaper itself actually thinks about the topics of the day), we wrote the following in response to Nigel Farage’s remarks about the woman who breast-fed her baby in Claridges hotel:-
Headline:  Nigel’s Boobed
Mums who breast-feed in cafes don’t just whip off their tops and clamber on the counter.  They tend to be discreet about it.
Yet Nigel Farage reckons some are ‘openly ostentatious’.  By which he appears to mean by sitting anywhere other than a dark corner.
Old folks, says the UKIP boss, may feel ‘awkward and embarrassed’ about the whole business
Sorry Nigel.  It’s 2014.  They can look away, or just get over it.
Mums should breast-feed where they like.
This is what The Sun believes and states loudly and clearly.  You can find this on page eight under the general headline of ‘The Sun Says’.   The newspaper also carries the opinions of a wide variety of columnists including Tony Parsons, Katie Hopkins, Jane Moore and Jeremy Clarkson whose opinions are often controversial. 
We believe in the fundamental British right of free speech and are happy to publish a wide range of views that many people agree with and others don’t.
I am sorry if you were upset by Jeremy Clarkson’s remarks and I will make sure that your concerns are passed on to him.  But I assure you that, while we believe in free speech and publish a wide range of opinions, we do not share Mr Clarkson’s opinion.
I hope that this reassures you.  Thank you for taking the trouble to write to us to express your concerns.
Yours sincerely
Philippa Kennedy
Sun Ombudsman

Oh Philippa, I sympathise with you. It must have been a long hard week in your office and I wouldn't blame you for wondering whether it was time to dust off your CV.

If you didn't before you sent out this excuse for a response, you certainly should now.

Rejecting responsibility for the words of your columnist has as much merit as a drug dealer making the point that they don’t force anyone to take the drugs they supply: While it might be technically true, the fact that you are supplying him with the platform and publicity his ego craves makes you morally complicit.

And while I’m here, there are a few other things about which we need to talk:

I’m very glad that your employers “believe in the fundamental British right of free speech” although just to be clear, I’m fairly sure it’s not purely a British right. But if we’re going to talk about the right of free speech, let’s just back up for a moment and look at the Human Rights Act 1998 which is where Freedom of expression is defined.

Just for shits and giggles, let’s pick out an article, ooooh let’s say Article 10, and have a look to see if there’s anything that might apply here:
1 Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers ...

2 The exercise of these freedoms, since it carries with it duties and responsibilities, may be subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society, in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, for the protection of the reputation or rights of others, for preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, or for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary.
Emphasis is mine, and included because I want you to keep up with me here as I make a cavalier leap from Human Rights to article 13 of The Equality Act 2010 which defines discrimination, and includes
(6)… (a) less favourable treatment of a woman includes less favourable treatment of her because she is breast-feeding;
So really it’s very nice of you that you to say that “Mums should breast-feed where they like” but the reality is that mums are legally entitled to breast feed where they like.

Moving on from our fundamental British rights, I should probably also mention the NUJ code of conduct which says that journalists should:
9 Produces no material likely to lead to hatred or discrimination on the grounds of a person’s age, gender, race, colour, creed, legal status, disability, marital status, or sexual orientation.
Again emphasis mine.

I’m glad you personally don’t “share Mr Clarkson’s opinion” and while I agree that he has the right to his hold his view there is a critical difference between critiquing the act of breastfeeding and comparing it to urinating.

The right of free expression stops being a defense at the point where Mr Clarkson engages in hateful expression and discrimination. Women are protected from the kind of language that compares breastfeeding to urinating in public. The latter, to the best of knowledge, is not a protected right under UK law, has no clear health benefits and is morally dubious at best.

I have to say Philippa, I think your columnist characterization of breastfeeding mothers exhibits the hallmarks of hateful expression in that it is demeaning, and incites prejudicial behaviour against a legally protected group.

I'm fully aware of the old phrase that “there is no such things as bad publicity” so I can’t imagine that anything I write will cause you undue stress, but yes, please do make sure that my “concerns are passed on to him”.

You might also pass on those concerns to the mothers who now feel more isolated and judged by their choice to breastfeed. 

You might pass them on to the breastfeeding supporters who are sitting head in hands that after months (and in some cases years) of training) their hard work in supporting mothers has been written off by a few crass words that you allowed to be voiced from the platform of your newspaper.

And yes, we do understand that it’s “not the Sun’s opinion”, but right now, that doesn't amount to a whole hill of beans.

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