On the killing of children

The news is hideous. 298 people died when Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 was shot out of the sky over Ukraine, apparently by pro-Russian separatists. Meanwhile, almost as many people have been killed in Gaza by Israeli air strikes, in response to Hamas firing rockets into Israel.

In both cases, the news reports emphasise the number of children killed. It’s a common journalistic practice that we take for granted, which is actually quite curious.

What is being communicated? Is it that a child’s death is somehow more tragic, because they have not had a chance to properly experience life? If so, what about all the dead adults who have still not achieved their potential?

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Writing on Censorship for Off Black Magazine

Off Black Magazine launches today: fashion, arts and culture.

WE ARE DRAWN TO THE EXPERIMENTAL, STRONG, EQUAL AND FUN. WE PROMOTE FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION FOR ALL.

Me too.  I was delighted to be asked to write for the launch issue (which takes ‘The Body’ as its theme) on the censorship of art and culture.  My article takes in erotica, Google algorithms, 3D models of vaginas, Instagram’s terms & conditions, and Rupert Bear’s penis.

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Urging Libel Reform in 'The Herald'

Today The Herald has published an opinion piece by me, urging reform of the libel law in Scotland.

Incredibly, the cradle of the Enlightenment offers fewer free speech protections than England and Wales. This state of affairs cannot be allowed to continue.

Read the whole thing in the paper, or at HeraldScotland.com.

 

Yvette Cooper demands evidence, proportionality, checks and balances on surveillance (in 2013)

A year ago this week, Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper gave a speech outlining the Labour Party’s new approach to security policy.  She argued that we need to strike a careful balance between liberty and security, and that security decisions should be based on proportionality and evidence.

I attended that speech, and wrote afterwards about how impressed I was by the principles governing Ms Cooper’s approach.  Labour’s acquiescence last week to the Data Retention and Invesigatory Powers (DRIP) Bill ‘stitch-up‘ has made me feel pretty stupid in my praise.  It seems that at the first real test, Ms Cooper and her Labour colleagues have found it politically expedient to cast those principles aside. Continue reading

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A word of caution on criminalising revenge porn

Yesterday’s news carried reports that the government may act to criminalise ‘revenge porn’. This is when an angry, jilted person posts private, explicit photographs of their ex-lover online.

At the moment, those who have been exposed in this way can try suing for a breach of privacy in the civil courts, but it’s not currently a criminal offence. For something to constitute ‘harassment’ it has to be a pattern of behaviour, which does not capture the one-off posting of consensual photographs. Continue reading

Hacked Off: Unwitting support for self-censorship?

There was some controversy last month surrounding free speech group Index on Censorship.  They’ve appointed Steve Coogan as a patron, but he is famously a part of the Hacked Off campaign which supports press regulation policies that Index does not.  Both Nick Cohen in the Spectator and Richard Pendlebury in the Daily Mail have written angry responses to the manoevre.

I’ve heard a couple of people express dismay that Hacked Off are being described in such reports as a “pro-censorship lobby”.  Through my work at English PEN 1, I’ve met three of the people who run the group—Brian Cathcart, Martin Moore, and Dr Evan Harris.  If you have read their countless articles, heard any their speeches, or read their tweets on the issue, I do not think one can seriously suggest that they are in favour of “censorship” as the word is commonly understood.  They are at pains to point out that they do not endorse any kind of pre-publication curbs on the press.

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Canaries down the free speech mine

On Tuesday I was quoted in a Belfast Telegraph report on the rise of super-injunctions in Northern Ireland.  Super-injunctions, you will recall, are those special types of gagging-order where the judge not only stops you from reporting certain facts, but also bars you from even telling anyone you’ve been censored.  As a rule of thumb, this tends to be a bad thing. Continue reading

Photo by ElBidule on Flickr

(0,0) featured on Pornokitsch Weekly Fiction

To tie in with the announcement about The Good Shabti, my story (0,0) has been published on the Hugo-nominated Pornokitsch website, in their weekly fiction slot.  The story, you may recall, was originally published in the Crossroads anthology.

The story begins

Hi there, friend. Is this seat taken?

Click over to the Pornokitsch website to read the entire thing.