The headline of this article is a personal opinion derived from true facts. The popular associate of a prominent anonymous and abusive internet troll has undertaken more than 50 lawsuits against the press, and has admitted in an interview with The Times that she’s “too thin-skinned” when it comes to people writing critically about her.
That seems to us to be fair and factual evidence in support of “litigious”.
“Bully”, meanwhile, is an honestly-held opinion related to those facts, based on the following definitions of that word from the Oxford English Dictionary:
For example, we consider that actively and publicly threatening to use your enormous financial power to sue someone, unless they back down over a highly questionable claim of defamation and donate money to your charity, is beyond reasonable-minded dispute “using your superior strength or influence” to “intimidate” them.
(This is particularly true if you interact with the person by unnecessarily involving your audience of 6.6 million social-media followers, a percentage of whom will then be highly likely to bombard them with abuse, whether you intend them to or not. Even aside from direct abuse, McGarry received in excess of 75,000 Twitter notifications simply as a result of Rowling’s tweets mentioning her.)
And there’s a reason we mention this.
The past week has seen some horrific assaults on free speech, instigated by those of considerable wealth and power against those who have far less. The recently-formed football club trading as “Rangers” successfully demanded the sacking of a Sunday Herald columnist for a personal tweet in support of a colleague, who’d been the unwilling subject of an apology published by its daily sister paper and who felt unable to continue working for it as a result.
Both writers had been the subject of storms of internet abuse from “Rangers” fans also demanding their sacking, and worse besides.
Independent MP Natalie McGarry, meanwhile, locked her Twitter account after a similar barrage of abuse which followed JK Rowling’s public challenging of some comments made by the MP. Rowling had boasted, in response to a tweet from a fawning Scottish journalist, of commanding “a small island” of lawyers.
(The journalist’s tweet had expressly raised the fact that Rowling had a vast army of legal might at her disposal, implying that it was more advisable to defame those with fewer resources who would be less able to protect their reputations, regardless of the fairness or otherwise of the comments.)
It was in this climate of fear that The National chose not to publish a comic strip by cartoonist Greg Moodie yesterday.
The content of the cartoon was not made public. Whether it featured Rowling, or “Rangers”, or neither, has not to our knowledge been revealed. And what that tells us is that it wasn’t pulled under legal threat, because its subject would logically not have known there was anything to issue a threat over. It was simply never published at all, because the newspaper was too scared.
Defamation law in Scotland is primitive and draconian. Unlike that of England it wasn’t reformed under the 2013 Defamation Act, and technically Moodie could have been prosecuted just for submitting the cartoon to the newspaper’s editor for assessment.
Ironically, the newspaper most actively supporting a new campaign to reform the law in Scotland was the Herald – the publisher of which sacked one journalist and lost another last week over defamation threats, and which also operates The National.
In an editorial on the subject just weeks ago, the Herald said:
The actions of JK Rowling, a serial and (by her own admission) over-sensitive litigator who can nevertheless afford to undertake basically limitless lawsuits – invariably backed up by a wildly supportive Scottish media who unhesitatingly portray her as the victim in any argument – have contributed to an atmosphere where no journalist read in Scotland can pursue their job in safety.
That’s a toxic legacy to bequeath fellow writers. But given Rowling’s known Unionist sympathies, it’s perhaps worth keeping in mind when people question the fairness and impartiality of the Scottish media on the subject of politics.
Because even when no threat is made or directly implied, we’ve learned in the past few days that the Scottish press will pre-emptively censor itself to avoid any risk of upsetting the wealthy and powerful, even if that means shielding the likes of “Brian Spanner” from the merciless exposure and opprobrium that would be the certain fate of any independence supporter making similar comments.
In Scotland, you can say what you like so long as you’re pals with JK Rowling. But if you challenge her, or any other powerful and rich institution – whether it be “Rangers” or the BBC or the UK itself – you better watch your back. Because you can expect no protection from the self-proclaimed champions of freedom.