I spent four hours in a car yesterday, so was already in a pretty foul mood. When I reached my destination, I saw that my messages contained a really ugly article by the Express. This concerns a fellow Liberal Democrat candidate, Katy Sykes, and I have had the pleasure of being on a panel show with Katy in the last few months. At no point did I think the accusations sounded like her usual persona at all, so I thought I would go back to her to get the real story.
The Offending Article
To call this an article would, in my view, be overly generous. It isn’t. It’s a very biased hit piece. Noteably, the Express did not bother to ask Katy for her side of the story before going to print with this garbage, so naturally it was entirely one-sided.
Don’t believe me, though, judge for yourself:
In 2013 Ms Sykes said: “Aaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh, I really really want to kill something.” Two months later she posted: “You better fn have nine lives coz I fn have eight knives.”
She also threatened: “One more person calls me a weirdo or filthy c*** then I think I’m going to rip their vocal cords out and use them to slice their knackers off.”
Ms Sykes posted in May 2013: “I hate the fg northeast, why is it I seem to attract the fg b*d scum everywhere I go, feel like either hurting them or killing myself.”
Frankly, it is brutal that the Express trawled through Katy’s old posts like this to find anything that could possibly be held against her. We have all said things we didn’t mean online, and the fact that Katy has not been in the news for “ripping out someone’s vocal cords and using them to slice their knackers off” would certainly imply to me that this was an example of someone venting, not making actual legitimate death threats.
Transparent Faux Outrage
In response to finding these comments, naturally the responsible thing to do as a serious journalist would be to message Katy asking for an interview to discuss the comments. Naturally that’s what the Express failed to do. In fact, they went straight to a Conservative MP, Simon Clarke, for his view. His statements were:
Approached by the Express for a reaction, local Conservative MP Simon Clarke said the posts from Nikita Sykes are “horrifying”.
He said: “These quotes are horrifying, most especially in their repeated references to, and threats of, extreme violence.
“It is very obvious Ms Sykes is totally unsuitable for public office and I hope the Liberal Democrats will act immediately to withdraw her candidacy – she ought never to have been allowed to stand in the first place.
“I hope she can now find the help she clearly needs.”Simon Clarke
Clearly Mr Clarke is new to the internet if he thinks that comments like that are horrifying (if he needs an education, then a quick visit to Reddit introducing himself as a Conservative MP will likely show him what horrifying really is!). I personally wonder what sort of environment he has found himself cushioned in where freedom to vent on social media has been so badly curtailed, especially as he is in the party that boasts about freedom to cause offence with their bigoted views.
More to the point, the idea that this is a threat at all is entirely unfounded. A threat is directed against a person or group of people, and arguably it must be perceived as potentially real. Venting online and talking about wanting to harm or even kill “someone” is not a threat, it is merely venting.
Now, you could argue that the language was inappropriate, especially if the meaning was actually literal. But in order to do that, you would have to actually approach the person who uttered those words and expressed those views, and you would need to be satisfied that a) they were actually meant to be a credible threat (they weren’t) and b) that they represent current views (they don’t).
In short, this isn’t journalism, it’s a thinly-veiled hit piece against a candidate who made a number of statements a decade ago that she now doesn’t identify with.
For fairness, I must mention that the article states that Katy was contacted for comment, but she tells a different story and says that the paper never actually made any effort to get in touch with her. To my mind, I am more inclined to believe Katy here, as most of us candidates have numerous ways for people to get in touch with us, and it is very unlikely that we would miss an opportunity to speak to the press.
This article really irritated me for a number of reasons:
- Katy’s actual policies were barely mentioned. Her approach now is one of tolerance and inclusion for everyone, so comments like this are not in any way current.
- Without a doubt, Katy was going through a tough time when she made these comments. Taking advantage of that seems extremely low to me.
- If we want an example of “horrifying” look instead at what the Conservatives have achieved in their time in power. The NHS is failing, education is really struggling, democracy is on its knees, we have destroyed our international standing, and our waterways are being flooded with human waste. That’s just the start of what the Conservatives have done to the UK, and that to me is truly horrifying.
It’s easy to find out what views a candidate has these days. As an example, if anyone wants to find out what I advocate, they can look at my manifesto. They certainly don’t need to go back through my social media history looking for moments which don’t necessarily still represent my views today. By our nature we are a changing species, and as James O’Brien states “there’s no point in having a mind if you never change it.”
The Express should be ashamed of themselves. This article isn’t journalism, it’s a pathetic hit piece that tries to take advantage of someone’s poor mental state from a decade ago as an attack on them now.
Simon Clarke should be ashamed of himself. He took this opportunity to pass judgement on someone now based on a series of venting posts made during a period of mental fragility a decade ago. Rather than doing the right thing and reprimanding the “journalist”, he took the opportunity to attack someone for daring to have been vulnerable in the past.
Anyone who reads the Express should consider buying another paper. If this is the quality of their journalism, then their paper is fit only to be used if you run out of toilet paper or firelighters.
For the record, I plan to have a chat with Katy in an interview about this over the weekend, so her side of the story will get out.
UPDATE: Katy has messaged me to say that the journalist in question did send her a message on Facebook, but as with so many such messages, this was filtered straight to the junk folder. No follow-up seems to have been attempted, and the initial contact was made with a completely arbitrary deadline of 5-6 hours. Whether this is genuine incompetence or a wilful decision not to carry out a full review, I don’t know.