Fionola Meredith: There is no right not to be offended: why we must heed the outgoing Ipso chief
Sir Alan Moses is correct, says Fionola Meredith. Freedom of speech is more important than hurt feelings
There is no right not to be offended: that's according to Sir Alan Moses, the outgoing chairman of the UK's main press regulator, Ipso. Moses stated that it was vital for democracy that the media be allowed to discuss sensitive subjects such as religion and gender without fear of being censored.
Hurray for Sir Alan! Somebody had to stand up and say it.
We live in a world where people act as if being offended is like kryptonite to Superman: deadly for their personal wellbeing.
Frequently this victim mentality is attributed to snowflakey millennials who have been brought up with an unprecedented level of privilege, entitlement and an overweening sense of their own importance.
There's no doubt that this toxic seam of intolerance - for that is what it is - runs like a sore through many British and Irish universities, with absurd attempts to 'no-platform' speakers that certain students dislike.
However, I've seen many old geezers get just as exercised about repressing, shunning or otherwise obliterating stuff they don't approve of.
If I don't like it, ban it: that's the prevailing message.
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To be fair to Sir Alan, a former lord justice of appeal, he didn't come out and say 'suck it up, cry-babies'.
Admitting that dealing with complaints about offence was one of the most difficult aspects of the Ipso role, he said: "If you're the victim of something that is deeply offensive, it is the most unpleasant, uncomfortable thing that you can imagine. But what we have to acknowledge is that, in striking the right balance in this country, there is no right not to be offended."
This message cannot be repeated too often. The novelist Salman Rushdie has more reason than most to take a personal interest in it, given that a fatwa - or execution order - was declared on him in 1989 by Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini, after the publication of his book, The Satanic Verses.
Mass book burnings, bannings and death threats followed. It was nine years before the author came out of hiding, but Index on Censorship has noted that as recently as 2016, funds were being raised to add to the fatwa.
Rushdie said: "Nobody has the right to not be offended. That right doesn't exist in any declaration I have ever read. If you are offended it is your problem and frankly lots of things offend lots of people. I can walk into a bookshop and point out a number of books that I find very unattractive in what they say. But it doesn't occur to me to burn the bookshop down."
Similarly, if somebody writes, says or tweets something that conflicts with your own beliefs, you don't have to go into public meltdown and immediately try to organise a huge social media pile-on, where reason and balance gets trampled into the dirt by the howling mob.
You have options. You could express your disagreement. You could enter into a discussion. Or hey, here's a radical idea, how about simply ignoring it and walking away?
True, Rushdie's persecution is an extreme example. Here in Northern Ireland, where offence-taking is practically a national sport, there are numerous instances of self-indulgent huffing about them'uns on the other side. Most of this is low-level yapping and whataboutery.
But one of the most astounding examples that came to light this year was the case of Lee Hegarty.
According to the former Ulster Unionist MP Ken Maginnis, speaking in the House of Lords, Hegarty - previously a Northern Ireland Office (NIO) worker, who then took up a role with the Parades Commission - made a complaint under human rights legislation because he was so offended by portraits of the Queen adorning the walls of his workplace.
The alleged price of poor Mr Hegarty's hurt feelings? Ten grand in compensation.
That's a hell of a lot of money to salve Mr H's wounded emotions. I really hope he didn't get PTSD or anything from having to see pictures of HRH every day.
If I got a tenner for each time I've been insulted or offended as a result of the work I do, I'd be an extremely rich woman. Maybe not as rich as Mr Hegarty though.
I'm no royalist, but to me there's something almost obscene - yet entirely typical of the way such things are done in la-la-land Northern Ireland - about pandering to outraged political sensibilities in such an extreme way.
There is no right not to be offended. As we enter not just a new year but a new decade, we must reaffirm this fundamental democratic truth.