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A “Legitimate Beef” or “Raw Meat”?Civility, Multiculturalism, and Letters to the Editor

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This article looks at the news production practices surrounding letters to the editor as a case study in the difficulties of creating a civil public debate in multicultural societies. It examines how letters editors make decisions about publishing uncivil letters—letters that are sexist, racist, homophobic, or generally intolerant. If letters contribute to the public debate, editors are reluctant to reject them, even if they challenge norms of propriety. Editors reject only letters that fall into one of two categories: (1) personal attack letters that might result in libel suits and (2) letters that are openly racist, sexist, or homophobic and do not in any way contribute to the public debate. They justify their decisions in common sense theories sympathetic to deliberative democracy. Editors thus see a policy of limited editorial intervention as the only way to ensure an open and honest debate about the varied issues that face the citizens of a multicultural society.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: School of Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies, Cardiff University

Publication date: 2004-03-01

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