It looked like Sydney’s Daily Telegraph would take out Crikey’s Headline of the Week with “Negotiations end man-boob mayhem”, which topped the story of Melbourne cabbies’ successful topless protest for better security after the stabbing of a 23-year-old taxi driver.

However, the Sydney Morning Herald sub-eds, not to be outdone, trumped their rivals with an article this morning titled “Yes, that really is a floral merkin”. To which we say, yes, someone did finally find an excuse to use the word “merkin” in a headline.

But back to the Daily Tele‘s story, which, headline notwithstanding, gets the Wankley for a more serious reason. The article, while reasonable in itself, became a platform for readers to air their racist rants.

Here’s a sample of moderated comments that follow the story:

Read more comments here where the general tone continues: “Of course if these lot don’t want to drive taxi’s [sic], there’s always Quik-e-Mart.” … “wow is this Australia, looks like a day at the cricket in Pakistan”… etc.

Some readers defend the taxi drivers but the overall sentiment still feels racist; inevitably, the most provocative comment gets your attention.

Media Watch picked the Tele up last year for running such comments. After a scan of online newspapers, it found that “by far the worst and most frequent” offensive reactions were to be found on the Tele ‘s website.

At the time, Daily Telegraph editor David Penberthy defended his paper’s approach in the name of robust discussion:

Whether you like it or not, these opinions are held by many Australians, especially in Sydney. They’re not the kind of thing you’d say at an ABC dinner party or at your ALP preselection but they are commonly held views. They also represent a minority of the opinions published on our moderated website.

Typically, you have deliberately highlighted comments conveying anti-Arabic sentiment because it suits your agenda. We also publish many comments from other readers, often Arabic readers, attacking such views as the dumb racist ravings of ignorant white Australians. By your logic, we’re probably vilifying them too… We believe in free speech and what you are advocating is censorship. And censoring difficult views to suit the bourgeois sensibilities of the Media Watch set doesn’t kill these opinions.

Well not to be all bougie, but isn’t it a bit much to let your readers make comments you’d never publish in the general pages of the hard copy paper and then call it free speech?

Perhaps it’s good to know what people are thinking, even if it’s confronting, but if no-one’s refuting comments or holding them up to scrutiny, it’s just vitriol, and racist vitriol at that. So why not have a Daily Telegraph staffer challenging readers — on both sides of the debate — about the validity of their arguments? Why not truly moderate? Otherwise, by letting readers rip, you’re sending the message that you’re unfazed.

That said, this could be a moot point. Cyber racism , including that within “comments on web forums”, falls within the parameters of the free-speech limiting Racial Discrimination Act, according to the Human Rights & Equal Opportunity Commission.

We contacted the Daily Telegraph‘s online editor but didn’t hear back before deadline.