Vertigo Café: The Critic as Litigant

By Julian Petley

Walker's articles were like 'giving a box of matches to an arsonist' – Philip French, The Observer

Here at Vertigo we're still idealistic enough to be perplexed when those who work in one medium – newspapers – regularly call for the censorship of those who work in others, namely film and television. In the end we put it all down to sour grapes and bad conscience – it must indeed be galling for those who've sold the last vestiges of their journalistic principles to watch others doing their best to maintain a sense of professional integrity. In the last issue of Vertigo, Julian Petley attacked the Evening Standard's Alexander Walker and the Daily Mail's Christopher Tookey for their nasty little campaign against a number of films funded by EURIMAGES and the Media programme, arguing that such tendentious nonsense jeopardised Britain's involvement in these schemes and that calling for the cutting-off of such European aid amounted to encouraging economic censorship. Soon, Tookey and Walker were at it again, calling for the banning of Crash. Or, to be more precise, Tookey at least had the gumption to argue openly that the film should be banned, whilst Walker took every opportunity to denounce the film in the most purple prose imaginable whilst denying that he was encouraging its censorship! As The Observer's Philip French put it, Walker's articles were like 'giving a box of matches to an arsonist', and he accused him of 'standing at the barricades loading the rifles of censorship's most vociferous supporters. Julian Petley and Mark Kermode monitored the Mail and Standard's campaign (aimed, of course, at pressuring the British Board of Film Classification to ban, or at least, cut Crash) and, when this collapsed in humiliating failure in March, wrote an analysis of the whole affair in Sight and Sound. Petley also complained to the Press Complaints Commission about gross inaccuracies in some of the articles which constituted the two papers' campaign. (Altogether unsurprisingly the PCC, which is entirely paid for by the newspapers which it is supposed to regulate and which, like those papers, is entirely unable to tell the difference between fact and comment, rejected his complaint). When he saw the Sight and Sound piece Walker flew into a rage, and apparently threatened Wilf Stevenson with the Evening Standard withdrawing its financial support for the London Film Festival which seems to us like another form of economic censorship. Not content with this, however, he then wrote to Sight and Sound in high dudgeon and threatened Petley with legal action if he repeated in print any of the alleged 'defamatory' allegations contained in his complaint to the PCC. We always thought that journalists (unless, of course, they're Andrew Neil) were big boys and girls who slugged out their differences in print, but obviously we were wrong. Anyway, Petely is in the process of writing an article for the British Journalism Review about his experience of complaining to the PCC, threats of censorship (this time legal) notwithstanding.