Lose the lads mags, re-visitted
Back in 2013, we blogged about the dishonesty of Lose the Lads Mags. It felt like a good time to re-visit it.
Poor Nick Ross. He must have thought he was pulling a master stroke, electing himself leader of the grumpy old men who know what rape really is tendency on a quiet Bank Holiday Weekend. He could have had the news agenda to himself for a couple of days, ensuring bumper publicity for the big news story of the weekend, which is that Nick Ross, second rate TV presenter and never really as good a journalist as he thought he was, has got a new book out. (The fact that Crimewatch made a virtue out of turning amateurs into the stars of the show, like Jacqui Hames, Rav Wilding or Martin Bayfield, should have made it clear to Nick that it wasn’t really one of the leading gigs for a man who thinks he’s important because he can look deeply into the camera lens while reading an autocue.)
Then along comes Kat Banyard, on a mission, with a nicely co-ordinated media splash this morning (and, oohh, look, a website!) alleging that it might amount to sexual harassment for Tesco’s to make their staff handle lads mags. Someone was on Radio 5Undead this morning as i got up, talking to this ‘challenge’ to the big supermarkets. I have to confess, I giggled a little. It’s not a new campaign. Here’s the Grauniad reporting Tesco taking action against lads mags in 2005, and a reaction to that decision in PR Week.. And here’s a report of a similar campaign in 2011, featuring those shock troops of radical feminism, the Christian Institute, and Mumsnet, who appear to have been somewhat ahead of UK Feminista and Object on this one.
There are two clever rhetorical tricks at work in the letter to the newspapers that is the hook for this press release. One is the age old trick of conflation; of asserting that something is pornography, when its not. The campaigners equate Tesco’s having a lads mag on the shelves with existing case law around porn in the workplace – the office where men put genuinely pornographic pictures on walls, or screensavers, or on desks, for instance. The two things aren’t the same, but without that conflation of the two there wouldn’t be a press release, so the trick has to be performed.
The second trick is the claim that this is newsworthy because someone might seek legal action against their employer. Now, here’s where I think the campaigners have made a tactical error. If you think you have a winnable case, at law, why would you bother setting up a website to lobby shops to stop stocking lads mags? You’d just identify your test case complainant, and plough straight on ahead, filing an ET1, not a non-specific press release on a slow news day.
So it looks as if UK Feminista and Object aren’t serious – they’re engaged in a stunt. Which is a problem for a trade unionist like me, because somehwere, out there in a retail shed on a Bank Holiday Monday, someone’s going to get half the story from the press, and assert their right not to handle lads mags based on this half baked, half thought out stunt, and end up losing their job.
So there’s no mistake, here’s the deeply equivocal and stunningly shallow quote from Anna Mazzolla that the press release relied upon. “The problem with this material is that people cannot avoid being confronted with it, whether they are customers who rely on the shops where it is sold, children accompanying them, or the employees obliged to sell it. The companies that own those shops should be aware that their legal position is precarious – making employees handle and sell these magazines will, in some circumstances, amount to unlawful sexual discrimination or harassment.”
The press release contains snippets of the legal advice provided by Aileen McColgan to the Object and UK Feminista. The press release says that a summary of the legal advice is available from Object and UK Feminista. Before their silly stunt costs someone their job, we call on them to publish the full, unvarnished advice. If they don’t, it’ll only support the conclusion we’ve reached, that the advice is much more equivocal and much less clear than is being claimed.
To self publicists like Kat Banyard this might just seem like a good use of a slow news day – to the poor bloody shop worker who gets themselves sacked, without recourse to law, because they believed what they read in the press, it might be a lot more than that.
[A week later I wrote what follows]
It’s a week since we raised our issues with the Lose the Lads Mags campaign.
Guess what? We can’t find any trace of the legal advice being published in full.
Stavvers did an excellent job here fleshing out some of the concerns I was trying to articulate in that original response.
Darren Newman did a highly professional blog here highlighting the legal problems with the claims of the campaigners. I know that Adam Wagner was going to ask for a full copy of the advice written by AIleen McColgan, but I’ve seen no sign of it being published.
I’m going to go out on a limb here, It’s not a very risky limb, but the adventure comes with a promise. If I’m wrong, I’ll apologise.
I smell bullshit on Kat Banyard’s part. I think the reason why the full advice has not been published is because it is so hedged about with caveats and warnings of the significant hurdles that would have to be cleared before a case could be brought and won that it is highly speculative. I think the reason why it wasn’t published is because losetheladsmags would never have got off the ground if it had been published, because the press release could not have made the claims it did.
Kay Banyard can prove me wrong of course. She can publish the full advice. As ever, this post comes with a health and safety warning. Don’t hold your breath.
[Tonight, a lost a year later Brooke Magnanti tweeted as follows]