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National World freedom of speech editor: Who could fit the bill?

Jeremy Clarkson and the Top Gear team, BBC

National World’s announcement at the weekend that it is to appoint its first freedom of speech editor is certainly an interesting development.

The publisher of The Yorkshire Post, The Sheffield Star, The Scotsman and many more said in its announcement that the eventual appointee will “underpin its commitment to free expression and champion local journalism across the UK.”

The importance of a free press is, naturally, not in any dispute. Perhaps especially so at National World, where the YP’s editor has warned of a “deeply worrying” attempt to undermine it through the recent dissection of the paper’s coverage of the Yorkshire County Cricket Club racism scandal and the ensuing DCMS enquiry.

That said, the job description as given doesn’t seem to impart too much solid information. It’s the first time National World has appointed such an editor, so we don’t really have a reference point, and we can’t find evidence of a similar role at any other major publications.

So, given the current lack of finer detail, we’ve taken a not-entirely-serious look at some candidates who could possibly, though more likely not, fit the job description.

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Clarkson's Farm will be diddly squat when his current Amazon deal expires, Matt Seymour on Unsplash
Clarkson’s Farm will be diddly squat when his current Amazon deal expires, Matt Seymour on Unsplash

Jeremy Clarkson

Erstwhile Top Gear, and perhaps soon-to-be erstwhile Who Wants to be a Millionaire, presenter Jeremy Clarkson certainly has time on his hands following Amazon’s announcement that it won’t be renewing Clarkson vehicles The Grand Tour and Clarkson’s Farm.

The cancellations came in the wake of his widely criticised, and now-deleted, Sun column about Meghan Markle – the most complained about in IPSO’s history.

Say what you like about one of the less palatable remnants of peak nineties lad culture, but he’s certainly a believer in free speech.

From homophobia to offending entire countries, and even sub-continents in the case of the Indian High Commission’s complaint to the BBC over Top Gear’s 2012 India Special, and spilling his sadisitic, misogynistic fantasies across the pages of the red tops, there seem no depths of free speech Clarkson won’t plumb for the sake of a few gasps, and a few more quid.

No less austere an organisation than The Free Speech Union has jumped to Clarkson’s defence following his latest outburst, with a petition entitled “To the CEO of ITV: Don’t Cancel Jeremy Clarkson” attracting 42,000 signatures as of Monday night.

If you’re unfamiliar with the Free Speech Union, don’t worry. We were too, so we’ve done the homework so you don’t have to. The FSU describes itself as “a non-partisan, mass-membership public interest body that stands up for the speech rights of its members.”

The FSU website’s homepage is currently dedicated to a campaign against the government’s proposed ban on conversion therapy on the grounds of “the impact such a ban might have on free speech,” while a recruitment video on its Facebook page promises that for just £49.95 a year “if the woke witch hunters come for you, WE’LL HAVE YOUR BACK [capitals FSU’s own].”

Clarkson has the geographical credentials for the role too. The interminably “edgy” one was born in Doncaster, South Yorkshire, to a school teacher mother and a travelling salesman father and attended the town’s independent Hill House School before being sent to boarding school at Repton in neighbouring Derbyshire.

Clarkson’s 2003 guest profile from Patrick Kielty’s Almost Live show states that he was expelled from the school for “drinking, smoking and generally making a nuisance of himself,” and he was back on his old South Yorkshire stomping ground in time to get his first break in journalism at The Rotherham Advertiser.

Nadine Dorries, Simon Dawson / 10 Downing Street
Nadine Dorries, Simon Dawson/10 Downing Street

Nadine Dorries

Liverpool-born MP Dorries may be from the wrong side of the Pennines for some fiercely proud Yorkshire folk, but there’s no denying her experience in the media after her stint as Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport from 2021 to 2022.

Dorries is also not shy about making her opinions known, however unpopular, misinformed or plain wrong they may be.

The then-minister famously chose the aftermath of her party’s thumping by election defeat in Wakefield, West Yorkshire in June last year to take to Twitter and opine on how “useless” by elections are “as an indication of anything at all,” especially the popularity of a Prime Minister who would be gone within a matter of weeks.

Her ambition to privatise Channel 4 meanwhile, backed by an incorrect belief that the channel was in receipt of public funding, failed to even convince her own party and was unceremoniously dumped by her successor Michelle Donelan earlier this month.

The former minister with overall responsibility for the nation’s sporting ambition could probably learn a few things about rugby from a spell in the rugby-mad Ridings too. Among her many memorable gaffes, Dorries confused rugby league with rugby union at a 2022 event to mark the social impact made by England hosting the Rugby League World Cup.

The event was held at St Helens’ Portico Vine Rugby League Club, which could perhaps have served as a clue. Suffice to say the audience did not fail to spot the error.

Lois Mackie, aka Corrie hack Chris Golding. The Dukes Lancaster/Facebook
Lois Mackie, aka Corrie hack Chris Golding. The Dukes Lancaster/Facebook

Chris Golding

At first glance, the Weatherfield Gazette reporter seems to have two major black marks against her from the off in the race for the new National World role.

Firstly, as an intrepid journalist for Coronation Street’s local paper the Gazette, Golding is very much from the wrong side of the Pennines for the Leeds-headquartered company and its proudly Yorkshire flagship title.

Secondly, as an intrepid journalist for Coronation Street’s local paper the Gazette, Golding is entirely fictional.

Look past these apparent hurdles though and the screen hack has plenty in her favour. She never gives up on a story, and spent much of 2021 and 2022 doggedly chasing the intimate details of Tyrone’s brutal replacement of Fiz with a younger, more Eastern European model.

She filed solid copy on the council’s plans to build housing on the Red Rec, and the 2022 Weatherfield by election too.

For all her love of a good story, Chris also has principles  – she refused to run a story on the Kelly Neelan murder trial due to Neelan’s young age, and later cited possible libel as a reason to reject Nina’s offer of a dramatic tell-all on the real killer.

More recently, Golding has been adding to her skill set, vital in the digital age, handling the Gazette’s multimedia needs by shooting video at the reopening of Speed Daal.

Finally, Golding may have valuable, and highly relevant, experience for the freedom of speech editor role. The fictional newspaper found itself in hot water last November when it contacted 11-year-old Hope Stape online to get a story about her serial killer father.

In an unusual, yet endearingly detailed, storyline over the issue, the Gazette found itself in breach of Clause 6 (Children) of the Independent Press Standards Organisation’s Editors’ Code of Practice. Sign her up now.

Geoff Boycott, artist/photographer unknown
Geoff Boycott, artist/photographer unknown

Geoffrey Boycott, OBE

The Yorkshire cricketing legend certainly ticks all the “Yorkshire” boxes for the new role, though his determined “ah speak as ah find” manner is perhaps a little too much for all but the most dedicated acolytes of the Free Speech Union.

The Fitzwilliam-born Greatest Living Yorkshireman’s 2019 knighthood, part of Theresa May’s resignation honours, attracted criticism from many due to his 1998 conviction in a French court for the assault of his then-girlfriend Margaret Moore.

Responding to criticism from Women’s Aid acting CEO Adina Claire, Boycott was typically blunt when he told Radio 4 Today presenter Martha Kearney: “I don’t give a toss about her, love.”

The cricket legend also reiterated his innocence and claimed, incorrectly, that French courts operate under a presumption of guilty until proven innocent. He then cited the conviction as a key reason he had voted in favour of Brexit.

“It’s a court case in France where you’re guilty, which is one of the reasons I [didn’t] vote to remain in Europe,” he told Kearney. “Because you’re guilty until you’re proved innocent. That’s totally the opposite from England and it’s very difficult to prove you’re innocent in another country and another language. Most people in England don’t believe it. I didn’t do it. Move on.”

Another famously un-PC moment was his 2017 claim, for which he apologised, that he would need to “black up” to ever receive a knighthood.

Greatest Living Yorkshireman? Possibly. Greatest advert for unfettered free speech? Probably not.

Michael "Flea" Balzary, Stefan Brending/Creative Commons
Michael “Flea” Balzary, Stefan Brending (2eight)/Creative Commons


The Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist may seem a strange call for the role, but take time to consider the evidence.

First of all, the musician may be a member of an all-American, stadium-friendly MOR rock outfit, but he’s actually Australian, born in Melbourne. So he should totally get the cricket.

Secondly, if the Chilis’ MTV-centric dirge isn’t for you, join the club. But when he’s been let out of the confines of the band he’s worked with some genuine legends – Johnny Cash, Tom Waites, Nirvana. Granted, none of them are from Yorkshire, but genius transcends borders.

Thirdly, and crucially, Flea is a Sheffield United fan. It’s not entirely clear why, but the bassist once told The Sun: “My team is Sheffield United, The Blades man, go Blades.” He occasionally comments on the team’s trials on Twitter too.

The Chili Peppers even performed Blades fan favourite The Greasy Chip Butty Song at a 2011 gig at the Don Valley Arena, which delighted approximately half of the audience.

Admittedly, Flea doesn’t have a great pedigree in journalism, but he has written a very well-received memoir which currently rates 4.6 on Amazon, where it’s described as “not about music, but about a feral child growing up in Hollywood who assembles a family out of the other lost souls around him.” There’s clearly the germ of a writer in there.

The famously raucous rocker has also made more film and TV appearances than many Hollywood A-listers, so he comes ready-made for the inevitable social media video appearances that might be required of an editor at a major publishing house.

Ladies and gentlemen, we could have a winner.

(Flea Image used under licence)

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