Geoffrey, you fell foul of our hate speech policy

The editor of the Guardian’s Comment is Free website saw red when he read Geoffrey Alderman’s complaint that he had been banned. Here, he responds.


By Matt Seaton, February 11, 2010
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In his column last week, “Comment is (not quite) free”, February 5, Geoffrey Alderman attacked the Guardian’s Comment is Free website (Cif), which I edit.

He made three serious complaints: that he has been censored by having comments in discussion threads vetted before being posted online (“premoderated”); that he has been told his status as a contributor to Cif is incompatible with writing for the website CifWatch; and that Cif is “a platform for the crudest propaganda that can only have been intended to foster a hatred of the Jewish state”.

On the first: Geoffrey made an intemperate comment in a thread, comparing Palestinians to Nazis. In discussion of the Middle East, we don’t permit “Nazi comparisons” because they are often used as an offensive way to attack Israel and Jews. Thus Geoffrey fell foul of a policy primarily designed to prevent antisemitic abuse.

As is standard procedure, a moderator then subjected Geoffrey’s subsequent posting to premoderation, checking that comments abide by rules before posting them. This is the same process used by the websites of the BBC, Times and Telegraph all the time.

As I politely explained to Geoffrey, this is commonplace on Cif and almost always temporary.

Regarding CifWatch, when we noticed Geoffrey had written an article for that site, I let him know that, much as we value him as a contributor, we could not share him with CifWatch. This is because CifWatch is not an objective media monitoring organisation, but a site run by anonymous activists dedicated to misrepresenting Cif as anti-Jewish. If there were a “JCWatch”, which misrepresented the JC as racist, we imagine JC editors would take a similarly dim view of its writers lending such a site legitimacy by contributing to it.

We take all forms of hate speech extremely seriously, especially antisemitism, and we work hard to delete offensive postings rapidly. In fact, the only place where such comments are kept online is at CifWatch; we do not tolerate them.

On the charge of editorial bias, Geoffrey cites a single article by Seth Freedman. Yet, just last week, Cif ran articles by Uri Dromi (no stranger to the JC), Aluf Benn (of Ha’aretz) and Adam Levick (of NGO Monitor).

As usual, articles mentioning Israel were a minority of our Middle East coverage.

I enjoy reading Geoffrey’s pungent opinions, but in this case he has been neither fair nor accurate.

Matt Seaton is editor of ‘Comment is Free’. matt.seaton@guardian.co.uk

Last updated: 4:35pm, June 3 2010

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