You won’t find the Sun anywhere in Merseyside. After what happened, most people understand. After it’s 1989 headline purporting the so-called Truth about the Hillsborough Disaster directing the blame at the Liverpool Supporters and exonerating the Police. Campaigner Peter Hooton told BBC News in 2012, “The boycott of The Sun is symbolic, and after 23 years it is still as strong as ever on Merseyside.” Since the disaster, Liverpool FC as a club have been relatively hostile, with a notable event being manager Jürgen Klopp refusing to answer a question from a Sun journalist in August 2016. In March 2017, the club banned Sun journalists from Anfield and their Melwood training ground. One month later, their city rivals Everton followed suit. But what has this got to do with the decision by Virgin Trains to stop selling the Daily Mail on their trains? Private organisations have the right to sell and not sell what they like, and that extends to newspapers.
Another relevant event to the debate raging about this decision is the controversy surrounding Ashers Bakery in Belfast They were accused of discrimination by Gareth Lee, for whom they refused to bake a cake which had the words “support Gay Marriage” on it. While Lee successfully took them to court for homophobic discrimination, Ashers received a lot of public support, including from Peter Tatchell, one of the first major LGBT Rights campaigners. In the 2016-17 financial year, their profit increased by just over £100,000. Why? Because they did not object to Lee being gay. They only objected to baking a cake endorsing an idea that they did not support. While that is refusing business, that is their choice and under the law people should be free to reject certain ideas, even if that idea has a vast consensus supporting it (which gay marriage does not in Northern Ireland). That’s the brilliant thing about the free market and market forces. It is not the place of government to dictate what is and is not savoury, but an organisation has a right to make a public stance for or against an idea, just like people.
Virgin Trains have the right to stop selling the Daily Mail under the law. That also extends to boycotting Virgin as well. If people feel so strongly on this matter, they are free to go out of their way to avoid using it. There is nothing I, Richard Branson or the government can do to stop them. However, those who are arguing this is censorship cannot get their head around the concept that you can reject something you disagree with. To paraphrase Jane Fae, there is a difference between the right to speak and the obligation to listen. Just because the Mail has the right to say whatever it likes and give a platform to do so, that does not translate to people having to pay attention to it. The Mail is a widely available paper which can be widely bought, so it is very much possible for someone to buy a copy before boarding a train should they desire to read it. It’s not like that the Mail’s financial future is in doubt as a result of this decision. They will continue to maintain a readership and their views will still be in the limelight so this decision by Virgin will have not that much effect on the reach and sales of the Mail. In fact, those who are crying censorship need to remember forcing Virgin to sell a paper by law is against their free speech – their right to distance themselves from ideas (specifically regarding unemployment and ironically given the precedent, LGBT Rights).
In essence, it’s not the place of the government to impose “Free Speech” rules which effectively end the right of companies to take a public stance for or against ideas (not people). Ironically, that’s a violation of Free Speech. The right to free speech does not equate to the right to a platform. Virgin are free to sell and not sell whatever they like.