Freedom of Speech in the UK

April 15th, 2012 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

Idiot/Savant at blogs:

On March 8, British teenager Azhar Ahmed posted the following to his Facebook account:

People gassin about the deaths of soldiers! What about the innocent familys who have been brutally killed.. The women who have been raped.. The children who have been sliced up..! Your enemy’s were the Taliban not innocent harmless familys. All soldiers should DIE & go to HELL! THE LOWLIFE FOKKIN SCUM! gotta problem go cry at your soliders grave & wish him hell because that where he is going..

For posting this, he was arrested and charged with a “racially aggravated public order offence”. That charge was dropped when he appeared in court – perhaps because even the Yorkshire police could understand that “British soldiers” are not a racial group – and instead substituted with one of using a telecommunications network to send a grossly offensive message. He will face trial in July, and it is unclear what sentence he may face.

Now I agree that one should not face court charges for saying offensive things on the Internet. The threshold should be if you are promoting actual violence or crimes. So for example saying “I hate Jews” should not get you in court (it should get you on the front page of the newspaper though) but saying “We should kill the Jews” should get you in court. Saying “I wish all Jews were dead” doesn’t meet the criminal threshold though (in my opinion).

However it is a pity that Idiot/Savant did not also mention this story, which I blogged on. Also in the UK, a 21 year old student was actually jailed (not just charged) for 56 days for gloating when a black footballer collapsed on the field, saying he hoped he was dead, and also using racial abuse when people challenged him.

Now both these cases had defendents say pretty offensive stuff. I don’t think either should be in court. But does Idiot/Savant think it is okay to send people to jail for saying something racist, but wrong to charge people for saying all British soliders should die and go to hell?

My suspicion is that I/S is more a defender of offensive speech he politically agrees with, than of all offensive speech. If not, I welcome his views on the above case.

UPDATE: A few people have said I am being unfair to say that I suspect I/S is more a defender of speech he agrees with.  He has often defended the right of people like David Irving to be heard, so my comment was unfair and I retract it with apologies.

However I do think that considering how often he posts on this issue, his lack of comment on the UK jail sentence for a racist offensive tweet was unusual. As he did not condemn the jailing, I thought he might actually support “hate speech” laws as many on the left do (which motivated the post – to challenge him on this issue), but having checked he blogged in 2004 that he did not, so really the post was un-necessary.

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25 Responses to “Freedom of Speech in the UK”

  1. Johnboy (16,994 comments) says:

    My suspicion is that Idiot/Savant should delete the last part of his name.

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  2. Mark (496 comments) says:

    He’s just another leftie loser who would string you up if had the chance.

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  3. Pauleastbay (5,035 comments) says:

    Not that far away from thought crimes.

    Not that far away from being jailed for commenting regards dwarf drunks who kept getting returned to Parliament.

    Elected fuck wits want control of the internet and any restriction on speech and comment is playing into their hands.

    The only problem with the Azhar comment above is that if I called him “a rag head camel shagger “he would be the first to rock on down to their equivilant of Jorges the Marxist and have me charged
    .
    Its all totally ridiculous that some British decendent of rag headed camel shaggers can cause all this uproar, if it wasn’t publized no one would care less.

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  4. Johnboy (16,994 comments) says:

    People call me a sheep shagger all the time Paul.

    I wear it as a badge of honour! :)

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  5. Graeme Edgeler (3,289 comments) says:

    My suspicion is that I/S is more a defender of offensive speech he politically agrees with, than of all offensive speech. If not, I welcome his views on the above case.

    I don’t believe that is the case.

    e.g. on David Irving and holocaust denial:

    As I’ve said before, Irving is a jerk, a fraud, and an anti-semite – but he shouldn’t be going to jail for it. The answer to poisonous speech like Irving’s is more speech, not less.

    and defending free speech for racist skinheads:

    Its election year, so the local skinheads are trying to whip up hate again, this time with a anti-asian flyer campaign in Auckland and planned march down Queen Street. People are calling for them to be prosecuted, but apart from the high legal barriers, this is the wrong solution. The answer to objectionable speech is more speech, not less. If the “Right-Wing Resistance” wants to hold a hate march, we should hold a countermarch, to remind everyone that their racism is not shared by the rest of the community, and that it will not be uncontested.

    and opposing banning those accused of homophobia from entering the country:

    The Big Day Out has invited Jamaican reggae artist Beenie Man to perform next year. The man is a notorious homophobe, whose music calls for the murder and extermination of gays and lesbians, and as a result he has been disinvited from several overseas events, including the 2004 MTV Music Awards. So I’m completely in support of Green MP Kevin Hague’s call for the Big Day Out to withdraw its invitation; decent people simply do not provide a platform for these sorts of bigots, let alone pay them to spread their hate. And if the Big Day Out wants to associate its brand with such bigotry, then they will suffer the commercial consequences.

    Where I get off is banning people from entering the country, as Charles Chauvel has demanded. I take it as axiomatic that the government should not be discriminating against potential visitors on the basis of their beliefs. Neither should it be attempting to censor people by denying them entry. In case Chauvel has forgotten, we are a country which supposedly respects freedom of speech. And that liberty applies to people we disagree with as well as those we like. The widely accepted limit on freedom of speech is “shouting fire in a crowded theatre”. While Beenie man’s music is hateful, like David Irving’s, it simply does not reach that standard. I am not denying the social consequences of his hate, but they are far too distributed and distant to provide a justification for censorship.

    The answer to speech we disagree with is more speech, not less. If Beenie Man makes it to New Zealand, he should be met with protests. Journalists should challenge his views, and make it clear that they are not acceptable in a civilised society. And if he performs at the Big Day Out, the audience should simply leave. Being greeted with an empty room would eloquently show our disgust at this bigoted homophobe.

    And some more:

    Stuff reports that the government may make online racism and Holocaust denial as part of its crackdown on money-laundering. This would of course be a gross infringement on our freedom of expression, which protects even vile and intellectually dishonest views.

    And finally, defending the speech of the anti-MMP group Vote for Change (not listed as being anything like the others except insofar as I/S disagrees with them):

    Oh dear. Tumeke has noticed that the anti-MMP Vote For Change campaign’s latest online advertising blitz (which of course relies on whipping up hatred of politicians) appears to be in contempt of Parliament. The reason? The videos use footage of MPs from the ParliamentTV feed, whose terms and conditions forbid using footage for

    political advertising or election campaigning (except with the permission of all members shown) satire, ridicule or denigration, commercial sponsorship or commercial advertising.

    These terms and conditions aren’t just a contractual matter between Parliament and broadcasters; they’re part of the Standing Orders. Violating them is a contempt.

    But before anyone laughs too loudly, you might want to consider whether these rules are appropriate in a democracy. I don’t think they are.

    So … um … free speech for everyone.

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  6. thor42 (971 comments) says:

    I think that “freedom of speech” is already dead in the UK and Europe, and has been for years.

    There is a huge double-standard there when it comes to this area. Muslims can march in the streets with signs saying “God bless Hitler”, but if anyone dares to criticise Islam they risk being hauled into court and locked up.

    The situation has got so bad that there was a case recently (in the UK) where a singer was singing the song “Kung Fu fighting” (as he always does in his sets) and a Chinese couple walking past “took offence”. The police then arrested him before he was bailed. Here is the story –
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/law-and-order/8475965/Pub-singers-racism-arrest-over-Kung-Fu-Fighting-performance.html

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  7. SalParadise (54 comments) says:

    In fairness his comment does include the line “All soldiers should die”, which I would consider promoting actual violence. But as it is not against an ethnic group I suppose that is moot.

    However I do agree that the trend of criminalising offensive comments is very worrying especially when you consider the subjective nature of what is offensive.

    As a add on here is a great piece by David Mitchell in the Guardian on public apologies for comments that people have taken offense to:
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/mar/25/public-apologies-gingrich-de-niro

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  8. Weihana (4,583 comments) says:

    DPF,


    The threshold should be if you are promoting actual violence or crimes.

    I don’t agree with the word “promote”. A better word is “incite” which I think conveys an important distinction. To promote is to encourage the popularity of something. To incite is to encourage someone to do something.


    …saying “We should kill the Jews” should get you in court.

    Surely you do not believe that this statement alone is likely to incite actual violence or crimes. By itself it is little different to “I wish all Jews were dead”. You seem to be making a semantic distinction when the substantive meaning of each statement is virtually identical. Indeed you must recognize that the statement itself is not harmful because you just said it, thus demonstrating that context makes a difference to its effect.

    I would say that both statements could either be allowed or not allowed depending on context and circumstance. The presumption should always be that the speech is allowed unless there is evidence of harm or serious potential for harm to occur. Thus, a statement like “We should kill all the Jews”, while appropriate for someone who intends to incite violence, could just as easily be used in a conversation designed to encourage the popularity of the idea but not specifically motivated towards inciting actual violence or crime, and even if it was motivated to that end it must actually have a reasonable possibility of effecting that outcome. Simply because a statement could incite harm does not actually mean it does incite harm. Again the presumption should be in favour of tolerating the speech. For speech to incite harm the incitement should be obvious and direct and not rely on some unquantifiable potential for subsequent events to occur.

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  9. Julian (178 comments) says:

    Rod Liddle in The Spectator on this too: http://www.spectator.co.uk/rodliddle/7724718/sense-about-sensibilities.thtml

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  10. gazzmaniac (2,307 comments) says:

    So I/S is a “defender of offensive speech he politically agrees with, than of all offensive speech” because he didn’t mention another story that was related by subject and country only? For all we know, he might disagree with the student being jailed for the black footballer incident too, but you haven’t given him the chance to refute that. He might have decided that because lots of other bloggers covered the other story and it wasn’t worth his while. He might not have even known about the other story.

    David with this “story” you’ve taken 1+1 and made 7.

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  11. Redbaiter (9,503 comments) says:

    “offensive” only means stuff that offends the left.

    A leftist can get away with saying anything about any rightist. (as they frequently do on this site actually)

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  12. Grendel (1,003 comments) says:

    Ask Malcom what he thinks should happen to parents who want the anti smacking law repealed, then you will see what kind of hateful little authoritarian asshole he is.

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  13. philu (13,393 comments) says:

    oh..!..cut the crap red..!

    while i agree that blogs like the standard/red alert/frogblog ban/censor free-speech/ideas-that-challenge…

    ..it is the rightwing blogs like here and oils’ that are the benchmarks for abusive/mindless ad homs…

    ..check any thread..

    phillip ure@whoar.co.nz

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  14. Johnboy (16,994 comments) says:

    “t/frogblog ban/c”

    Come on now Magpie.

    You only came to that enlightenment when the Greenies banned you!

    You only get banned from righty blogs when you go utterly over the top mate.

    We actually observe freedom of speech, don’t just prate it when it sounds good and then take the messenger down to the cellar and shoot him! :)

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  15. Graeme Edgeler (3,289 comments) says:

    A leftist can get away with saying anything about any rightist. (as they frequently do on this site actually)

    Yes. Witness the offence taken by some Republicans to references to Ann Romney never having worked (despite raising her children).

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  16. Other_Andy (2,676 comments) says:

    @thor42

    “I think that “freedom of speech” is already dead in the UK and Europe, and has been for years.
    There is a huge double-standard there when it comes to this area. Muslims can march in the streets with signs saying “God bless Hitler”, but if anyone dares to criticise Islam they risk being hauled into court and locked up. ”

    Sadly, yes.
    There are two ways of attacking free speech

    Lawfare
    There are countless examples of trying to silence critics by using the law. In most cases those attacking free speech only have to ‘proof’ they are offended. Even telling the truth isn’t a defence anymore. And yes, the law isn’t applied evenly.

    Treats of violence and intimidation
    Those of daring to criticise or even speaking the truth has cost several people their live. Violence and threats work. Threats of violence are a good way of making sure that people ‘voluntary’ give up their right to free speech.

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  17. V (744 comments) says:

    Coming soon, gummint organising a 2 minute hate …

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  18. Other_Andy (2,676 comments) says:

    Wow, that ended up garbled…..

    “Those of daring to criticise or even speaking the truth has cost several people their live.”

    And I haven’t even been drinking (maybe I should!).

    Should be:

    “Several people who dared to criticize or tell the truth have lost their life.”

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  19. ephemera (557 comments) says:

    “However I do think that considering how often he posts on this issue, his lack of comment on the UK jail sentence for a racist offensive tweet was unusual. ”

    A good habit to get into is judging what people say about an issue, rather than what they don’t.

    Even if what they don’t speaks volumes, it’s not for you to put words into their mouths. You also used this tactic against in the Green Party in regard to the Wild Greens.

    It’s all a bit sleazy.

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  20. Liberal Minded Kiwi (1,571 comments) says:

    Pity Malcolm Harbrow doesn’t allow people to comment on his often outrageous posts.

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  21. kowtow (8,730 comments) says:

    Freedom of speech is in grave danger in the UK and Europe.

    However this item is a little different.

    The culprit is described as British. Given his name and expressed sentiments I think he is a Muslim who is “British” in name only.
    His loyalties lie with the Ummah ,or brotherhood. A Muslim concept that puts religion before country. That’s how he can express such hateful comments towards what appear to us to be his fellow citizens. ie serving British soldiers.
    Cases like this illustrate the dangers of large Muslim populations in non Muslim dominated countries.
    Here’s another example.
    http://tribune.com.pk/story/364863/sterling-bounty-offered-for-obama-bush/

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  22. emmess (1,432 comments) says:

    Yes. Witness the offence taken by some Republicans to references to Ann Romney never having worked (despite raising her children).

    AFAIK no one said Obama should be arrested over it, they just drew attention to it, which is part of the reason we actually have free speech.

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  23. gazzmaniac (2,307 comments) says:

    UPDATE: A few people have said I am being unfair to say that I suspect I/S is more a defender of speech he agrees with. He has often defended the right of people like David Irving to be heard, so my comment was unfair and I retract it with apologies.

    However I do think that considering how often he posts on this issue, his lack of comment on the UK jail sentence for a racist offensive tweet was unusual. As he did not condemn the jailing, I thought he might actually support “hate speech” laws as many on the left do (which motivated the post – to challenge him on this issue), but having checked he blogged in 2004 that he did not, so really the post was un-necessary.

    I think this is as close as we’re ever going to get to David issuing a retraction.

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  24. thor42 (971 comments) says:

    kowtow said – “His loyalties lie with the Ummah ,or brotherhood. A Muslim concept that puts religion before country. That’s how he can express such hateful comments towards what appear to us to be his fellow citizens. ie serving British soldiers. Cases like this illustrate the dangers of large Muslim populations in non Muslim dominated countries.”

    I agree, kowtow. Muslims everywhere, without exception, are loyal to their religion before anything else. Given that fact, they should be banned from serving in the armed forces or any other critical area. Never forget the Fort Hood massacre. That showed how unwise it is to let Muslims into the armed forces.

    I have to admit that I would feel very uncomfortable if I were in hospital and one of the nurses attending to me was a Muslim (and there is a Muslim nurse here in Wellington). I don’t trust them, and I have no problem with them not trusting me.

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  25. mikenmild (11,651 comments) says:

    I hope thor42 does have to go to hospital (it’ll probably be the psychiatric ward) and have that nice nurse attend to him. Perhaps confronting his stereotypes would have some therapeutic value.

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