Friday, September 15, 2006

Freedom of Speech is ebbing away

For some reason my newsagent decided to deliver a copy of The Sunday Telegraph to me last Sunday instead of the usual Independent on Sunday. (I used to get The Observer but switched after they backed the invasion of Iraq - but that's another story.)

It took me a few seconds to decide that my newsagent probably had better things to do than listen to my complaints, so, happy in the knowledge that one of my Tory neighbours was having to stomach the IoS, I decided to read the thing anyway.

The story that grabbed my attention was this one.

Now this guy is an idiot. His views are loopy, he should get a life and stop pretending that if there was a God he would have any time at all for small minded losers like him.

But the important point is that the guy has a right to be an idiot and to put forward his idiotic views if he wants to. He has the right to hand his stupid leaflets to people like me who disagree with him and to listen to the tirade that would be directed in his direction if he did.

Yet he was arrested!

As far as I am aware there is no suggestion that he was behaving aggressively, forcing his silly leaflet on people, or being in any way abusive.

But on the grounds that one or two people were offended by his views he has been arrested, charged and dragged into a courtroom.

This is a frightening state of affairs.

Now I chose this particular case not because I agree in any way with this loony, but because I think those arguing for freedom of speech make their case stronger by defending the rights of those they strongly disagree with.

There are also a number of other recent incidents which also demonstrate the frightening state of affairs we are in where I have more sympathy with those affected:

Families of war dead not allowed to protest at the Labour Party Conference.

Man not allowed to take Craig Murray's memoir of his incident-strewn stint as British ambassador to Uzbekistan on a flight.

Woman prosecuted for reading the names of those killed in Iraq at the Cenotaph. (Kind of misses the point about what the Cenotaph is as well!)

And, of course, there's good old Walter - surely a serious threat if ever there was one.

One common thread running through all of these examples is that each of them points to a Government that believes so fully that it is absolutely right about absolutely everything that the rest of us need to be protected from viewpoints that point another way.

A second common thread is that this approach is ultimately self-destructive.

It simply helps to increase the intensity of feeling against this Government, pushes freedom up the agenda of both main opposition parties, and will contribute to this Government being remembered, and deservedly so, as a failure.


Gavin Whenman said...

My all time number one favourite example of censorship is when Comedy Central refused to let South Park show Muhammad, but allowed them to show Jesus Christ defecating on the American flag in the same episode. I blogged about it here:

Liberal Neil said...

And mine is when Bill Hicks got bounced off the Letterman Show.

But I would struggle to pin that one on Bliar!