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Sensitivity

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I'm a long time subscriber to Private Eye and there's a much longer tradition of them including material, especially cartoons, which offends readers enough that they write in and (traditionally) cancel their subscription, although these days the latter is largely done satirically.

I must admit it normally surprises me what people are upset by: perhaps I've been reading the magazine for too long but very little in it offends me greatly. Certainly not enough to write in and complain about it anyway.

But the last edition had a cartoon which immediately made me wince. It was very simple: a coffin going down a bob-sleigh run. The magazine came out only a couple of days after the sad death of Nodar Kumaritashvili so it was still very raw in people's memories. I didn't do anything about it mind you, but I did think to myself "they'll get letters".

The same edition had a series of photos on the cover from Gordon Brown's interview with Piers Morgan in which he talked of the death of his daughter and was accused by elements in the press of crying. Headed "A Weep in Politics" it poked fun at the whole thing.

Now here's the thing: I didn't blink when I saw the cover. Seemed like business as usual at the Eye to me and as the interview did seem to be an attempt by Brown to be "liked" in the run up to the election it seemed like a legitimate subject for satire.

So we come to the latest edition of the Eye which arrived today and, as it my routine having glanced at the cover (which is taking a pop at Cameron this time) I turned first to the letters page to see what people were saying about the last edition.

And as expected four letters about the coffin cartoon, three complaining and one, while noting the rather edgy nature of it, applauding them for publishing it. So, par for the course.

The surprise, to me at least, was the bile about the cover. Five letters expressing their anger, no letters supporting it (and I'm sure if there had been the Eye would have printed it).

It was pretty clear from the general tone what the problem was: if you've ever experienced the loss of a child then it sensitises you to that issue to that all the other overtones of the Brown/Morgan interview disappear from view. Understandable I guess.

As for Private Eye, well they occupy a unique place in British society and when they're finally sued out of existence the country will be the worse for it but it does illustrate how difficult it is for them in treading the line between offending some people and keeping on the back of the great and the good.

Written 03/03/10

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