A couple of days ago I got sent a link from an old colleague in newspapers which horrified me for a couple of reasons…
It was for a Facebook campaign to boycott the Hull Daily Mail, and the more I looked at what they were up to the more disgusted I was, because 1 – I used to work for the HDM and held it in high regard and look back on my time there with great affection, and 2 – because I’m a web designer who knows how hard it is to keep afloat these days.
The Hull Daily Mail is essentially campaigning against a guy called Paul Smith who runs a local community newspaper online called HU17.net and is – without actually making any kind of genuine charge or accusation – simply calling him unfit for this. He has a past in building websites in the ‘adult’ (that’s posh for ‘porn’) industry – though he apparently only owns some hundred or so domains, which seems slightly at odds with the Hull Daily Mail’s shrill accusation that he’s responsible for “thousands” of hardcore porn websites (which would surely make him a lot wealthier and busier). But, as I say, no actual charge of any actual wrongdoing or illegal activity. Just smear and innuendo.
Also they do something very very disturbing and very very distasteful. They mention as a complete non-sequitur that this news website about Beverley publishes pictures of… wait for it… “junior sports fixtures”… Can you see what they did there? Yep – they say he’s a porn monger and then they cannily throw in that phrase. They’re not insinuating anything of course. No, no, no… They’re just saying… “JUNIOR SPORTS FIXTURES”… nudge nudge.
I was genuinely gobsmacked when I read those words. That barely passes as innuendo, and surely can’t have been okayed by a lawyer.
Now it may be that this guy *has* done something wrong – but I for one cannot see any evidence of this and the Hull Daily Mail don’t seem willing to publish anything to that effect. They seem happy to pursue what appears to be a bullying policy of harassment against a competitor.
Oh yes – a competitor – that’s the other side to this story. The Hull Daily Mail doesn’t mention anywhere that it’s doing a smear campaign against someone who’s basically doing the same kind of business as them, and on the same turf. And that’s kind of important.
Comments on the Hull Daily Mail website and also on the Press Gazette website seem to be unanimous in seeing this hateful campaign as nothing more than a shitty, ill-judged and quite despicable vendetta for commercial reasons. Comments on the HDM site have today been suspended and the masses and masses of comments forming a backlash on the previous articles have been removed.
The paper claims – in Press Gazette – that it is acting in “the public interest” – whereas there’s nothing to suggest that it is doing that at all. If they have allegations about Paul Smith and his works or his past then they should make them, and/or speak with the police.
However if what the Hull Daily Mail are saying is that it is in the public interest that somebody who does work for sleazy adult/porno services has no right to be doing online sites (and online sites that contain pictures of “junior sports fixtures” ahem) then fair enough – so long as they close their websites until they cease running advertisements for euphemistic “massage” and “escort” services, which are simply adult and sleazy. The Hull Daily Mail is throwing stones from its own sewer of a glass house.
They seem to have no legal case or direction on this, and certainly they have no moral compass whatsoever, so one hopes that if there is no *legal* here that they will get off their high horse, apologise (in as prominent a size and position as their gutter-press vilifications) and back down.
If not, then I hope this is as massive a PR and commercial disaster for them as it looks like being.