The Daily Mail is angry because Virgin Trains has decided not to stock the paper on its trains any more. The paper has accused the train company of ‘censorship’.
First of all, Virgin is a private company. Ultimately, it has a right to stock whatever it wants in the shops on its trains, and enter into the deals it wants to regarding distribution of free copies to its first class passengers. As Jane Fae says in a column for the Guardian, clearly the company has decided that the Daily Mail is not ‘on brand’.
Having said that, taking decisions that limit consumer choice and diversity of opinion are probably not part of the Virgin brand either. If the decision were purely commercial, that would be a different matter. Why should the train company transport heavy newsprint of a title that doesn’t sell? But that is emphatically not what has happened in this case. Instead, Virgin are refusing to stock a particular newspaper that is popular and does sell, only because the content is disagreeable to its brand. This decision hints at the idea that Virgin knows what is best for us, that it should act as a regulator on the ideas that enter privately-owned yet communal spaces.
Modern trains are, like train stations, odd kinds of space. Although they are legally private property, they are akin to public spaces in that people can walk in and out of them, on and off them, as one would a public square or park. They are of course subsidised by the Government (famously and controversially so). When a person takes a ride on a train, Virgin have a temporary monopoly over what can be sold to passengers.
Restricting passenger choice at that moment is not quite censorship, but looks a little like it. Tellingly, I note that Jeremy Corbyn has said he would abolish such a ban on the Daily Mail, if and when he re-nationalises the trains.
Perhaps we need a word or phrase that captures this sort of Not Exactly Censorship But Looks Quite Like It. Quorn Censorship? Censorshippy? Censorshipinho? Censorslip?
There is something conceptually different about Refusing To Stock What Once Was Stocked, and Never Stocking In The First Place.
Just like No Platforming is very different from Not Inviting
— robertsharp59 (@robertsharp59) January 10, 2018