The State of the Freedom of Speech in the United Kingdom – Conservative Article
Freedom of Speech does not exist in the United Kingdom. In 2017, nine people a day were convicted for “offensive messages online”, under section 127 of the Communications Act 2003. People have been charged for things ranging from posting defaced photographs of policemen, poor jokes, to rap lyrics. The South Yorkshire police are now policing “non-crime”. But where does this stop? The trend of the last decade is one of sharp increase.
Now, there are obvious caveats to this debate. Libel laws, plagiarism, and direct incitement of violence, etc., are fair limits for they do not censor opinion.
Firstly, to prosecute based on offence is illogical. ‘Offence’ is an entirely subjective phenomenon. What may offend one, may not offend another. There is no standardisation. To assert that people should be prosecuted due to the feelings of a given victim is not only illogical when played out, but dangerous.
Those that look to censor may have the best of intentions, looking to protect certain groups vulnerable to verbal abuse. Others are simply on a quest to gag any speech they disagree with. However, despite the good intentions, we are headed down an Orwellian road.
Suppression is an exponential phenomenon, once you do it once, you establish a trend. The second time becomes more likely, and the third more likely than that, ad infinitum.
History is littered with examples of slow temptations to censor, and the totalitarian regimes of the twentieth century should be example enough to stay away from this road. We are not on a par with the Nazi Regime. However, the first step of an authoritarian trend is the control of speech & information.
To speak is to think. Thus, the control of speech is the control of thought; a totalitarian assertion that one must comply to my ethic, lest you be silenced. Plainly, there exists some speech that is taboo — for good reason — within society.
Speech should not go unchallenged, but speech should go unregulated (save for the obvious examples). For, if we are to go down the road of suppression, who is it that decides? No one is enough a paragon of virtue, so as to decide legally what is and isn’t permissible speech.
Entwined within this, is the freedom to make mistakes. To conceptualise, debate, and work through the beliefs that one holds. I abhor racism, but the most effective way to dislodge taboo views is exposure to countervailing arguments, not policing. The world is a formative beast when one exposes oneself to it. If one says something wrong, or stupid, there is usually a societal response. This is my distinction, a societal response, not a judicial one.
Next, the control of speech is the assertion of the government over the citizenry. If we divulge to the government, a tradition of censor, there is no bulwark against the suppression of dissidents.
To those who do not think it a big deal, ask Raif Badawi of Saudi Arabia, Yiu Mantin of Hong Kong, and Ali Ünal of Turkey, all currently imprisoned for speaking out against their governments. As soon as we start the tradition of speech regulation, we leave the gates open to this reality.
As a conservative, I resolutely believe that in the vast majority of cases, individuals & societies can manage themselves better than the state can do it for them. I want to criticise my own party in government: the Conservatives. It is under their watch, that this trend of policing speech has increased. They have been severely mistaken.
In short, my thoughts boil down to this question: is offence more harmful than suppression? I do not think so.
Written by Conservative Writer, Alexander Dennis
Point of Information
A Liberal hiding in the blue – a Liberal response
First, I would like to welcome Mr Dennis to POI. I think like anyone who has read this piece would agree that his elegance when writing is captivating and addictive. Although Mr Dennis and my writing styles differ, I cannot disagree with his conclusion.
We wrote a piece some time ago where I said pretty much the same thing as Mr Dennis. Therefore most would say I don’t have much to add but I do. In theory, what Mr Dennis says is nice, but in practice, it is truly flawed. He says that no speech, no matter its harm, should be banned; a truly Hegel quote.
Therefore let me reply with another one; what if freedom of speech would cause physical harm? If someone is trying to cause genocide and is clear he will, with others, do this. Do you sit there waiting for it to happen? No, you act.
I agree that freedom of speech should be maintained for as long as possible, but sometimes speech itself can cause you to be guilty. That is why you ‘have the right to remain silent’. Therefore the government should, in some cases, have the right to try and prevent terrible acts occurring before they do. As through speech, they may have already incriminated themselves.
Written by Liberal Writer, Max Anderson
Freedom of speech should not mean freedom from conscience, or consequence – a Labour response
So, a strong first article from one of our new writers (which makes for some light reading). As succinct and smoothly worded as some of it is, I have to say that for me it misses the mark.
Let’s take it from the top. To prosecute based on offence is not impossible or even illogical. Whether Alex wants to recognise it or not, our society has shared ideas about what is right and wrong. Do we all agree, all the time, on what those should be? Of course not.
However, to suggest that there is no common understanding supports the individualistic idiocy that “my ignorance is as good as your knowledge”. I wonder – would Alex agree that racial slurs are too ‘subjective’ to be punished by the law?
It’s always sadly unsurprising, not to mention uninspired when yet another white male argues that they should be allowed to say what they want with no consequences. Some oppressive practices are systematically embedded and so wishing for a “societal response” is insufficient. Changes to the law can lead to positive changes in people’s lives.
As for the comparisons to Orwell and the Nazis (a terrible band name, by the way), they’re as obvious as they are obsolete. No one in the UK is stopping people speaking before they start, and secret police aren’t stalking the streets. So talk of a ‘slippery slope’ is somewhat misplaced.
Where all of Mr Dennis’ examples fail is that in his account of ‘oppression’ of a majority, he overlooks how free speech regulation can help protect numerous minorities by preventing abuse of privilege and power.
What this debate desperately needs is some nuance. Neither totalitarian regimes, nor hyper-liberal laws, represent the right solution. I would remind the reader that the blind scales of justice are balanced. Although that equilibrium isn’t easy, it is the best way forward.
As Amnesty International summarises, “free speech is one of our most important rights and one of the most misunderstood”. As I’ve argued above, this article makes some clear mistakes, and so loses sight of why free speech can be so important in the first place.
Written by Chief Labour Writer, Evan Saunders