On OpenDemocracy’s OurKingdom blog, Oliver Huitson draws attention to the way in which the right-wing media has shifted the focus of its attacks in recent days: from ad hominem assaults on Ed Miliband, to warning about the danger of SNP influence on a possible minority Labour administration. Continue reading Constitutional coups and the decline of media influence
Ever since the ISIS murderer and propagandist ‘Jihadi John’ was revealed to be a British engineering graduate called Mohammed Emwazi, our news media has been saturated with reports about his school days, his personality, and the possible causes of his radicalisation: he ran into a goalpost as a kid; he went to school with Tulisa…
The coverage grates. Its full of cod-psychological comments from former pupils at his school, noting the fact that he was a ‘loner’. Reading these quotes, I’m reminded of one of the insights from Serial, the podcast phenomenon about the murder of a Baltimore schoolgirl Hae Min Lee in 1999. That series makes the point that people are susceptible to a confirmation bias in their memories. When told that someone is a murderer, people naturally recall those incidents where the person acted weird or like a ‘loner’. But alternatively, those who are convinced that the convicted person is innocent remember him as friendly and outgoing. Continue reading Building the Mythology of Jihadi John
We’re 100 days out from the election, and the Sun has launched a manifesto – a #Sunifesto – for Britain.
Their last bullet point is about free speech. Incredibly, this is not about press regulation, the harmonisation of our libel laws, extremism ‘banning’ orders or police abuse of RIPA to track down whistleblowers. This is odd because The Sun is at the heart of all these issues.
Instead, it’s about the dangers of Twitter mobs.
The paper complains about the police “wrongly” acting against those who have caused offence. “Unless it’s illegal, it’s NOT police business”.
The problem with this is that causing offence is illegal. Section 127 of the Communications Act 2003 expressly criminalises ‘grossly offensive’ messages. And of course, what constitutes gross offence is in the eye of the beholder. So the highly subjective test in the law enables and encourages abuse.
The Sun blames political correctness for this and implores us to #forgawsakegrowapair. But it’s not political correctness that causes the mischief here. The principle of free speech permits not only the right to offend, but the right to say that you have been offended, even on Twitter. For many people it takes courage to speak out and tell a powerful newspaper columnist that they’re being crass and prejudiced. For many, politically correct fury is indeed “growing a pair” (we’ll ignore the sexist overtones of that phrase for now).
Appallingly, people in the UK are given prison sentences for making tasteless comments online. The Sun claims to stand up for Free Speech, but (as is perhaps inevitable, given the name of the paper) it’s a fair weather friend. Where was the Sun when Robert Riley and Jake Newsome were jailed for unpleasant social media postings?
For social media, the free speech policy must be reform of s.127. Free speech cannot just be for the newspapers. It must be for the Tweeters, too.
At first blush, the success of the No More Page 3 campaign does not look like a victory for free speech. After all, a thing that was being published, is no longer being published. The prudish censors have prevailed, right?
Look again. No law has been invoked to stop Rupert Murdoch from printing nipples on Page 3 (or, for that matter, Page 4 or 5). MPs did not vote on a new Bill. No lawyers have filed a complaint, no judge has granted an injunction. The law is not involved. Freedom of speech means a choice over whether to publish, and Mr Murdoch has chosen not to publish pictures of topless women any more. Continue reading The No More Page 3 Campaign is a Victory for Free Speech But Not For Feminism
From Wednesday, a Guardian report about the legal harassment of radical publisher Ihar Lohvinau:
Continue reading Quoted in the Guardian, demanding free speech for the publishers of Belarus
In an excellent, angry essay on the contradictions of our collective response to the Charlie Hebdo atrocity, Sam Kriss makes this point:
The armed attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo was a vile and senseless act of murder. I condemn it utterly, it repulses me, and my sympathies are entirely with the families and loved ones of the victims. I can only hope that the perpetrators are caught, and that they face justice. All this is true; I really do mean it. But it’s also politician-speak, inherently false. Read any article against the sacralisation of the magazine, especially one written by anyone from a Muslim background, and you’ll see a paragraph like this one, either strangely stilted (I utterly condemn…) or falsely slangy and overfamiliar (a bunch of gun-wielding cockwombles…). Why should this be necessary? Why do we feel the need to prove that, like all sane and decent people, we don’t somehow support the gunning down of ten innocent journalists? Why this ritualised catechism; why can’t we get straight to the point? Is this not itself a kind of restriction of free speech?
I wonder what Lord Bell thinks of Sony’s decision to cancel screening of ‘The Interview’?
Earlier this year, the Tory peer said that author Hilary Mantel should be investigated by the police after she wrote a short story called (and about) ‘The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher – August 6th 1983′.
It was a silly thing to say but free speech groups like English PEN (for whom I work) cexpressed concern at his words. Artists should be free to imagine and to fantasise, and equating a fictional murder of a head of state with actual incitement is not only fallacious, but gives dictators around the world yet another reason to shut down any kind of expression that portrays them in an impregnable light.
Which brings us on to The Interview, a comedy film in which Seth Rogan and James Franco star as two journalists who set out to assassinate Kim Jong Un. The government of North Korea called the film “an act of war” and threatened “bitter reprisals”. This week, Sony pictures announced that it would be withdrawing the release of The Interview after pro-regime activists calling themselves Guardians of the Peace hacked Sony’s computer systems, leaked embarrassing e-mails, and threatened attacks on cinemas showing the film.
Now, Lord Bell’s suggestion that Mantel receive a visit from the police is not equivalent to North Korean activists threatening violence. But Lord Bell’s idea – that fictionalised assassination of an already dead Maggie Thatcher is incitement, is surely equivalent to the idea that ‘The Interview’ is incitement. Of course, I think both ideas are false… but when a member of the House of Lords peddles the first idea, it rather gives credence to the second. Continue reading Fictionalised Assassinations
Here is the short essay originally posted on my Leveson Report (As It Should Be) project site, explaining my reasons for initiatin the project.
Alan Hemming has been murdered in Syria. What a disgusting, inhumane act.
Few of us have much faith in the tabloids to show much restraint in these situations.
I bet tomorrow's papers are so prurient and exploitative they'll look like ISIS were guest editors.
— Justin McKeating (@JustinMcKeating) October 3, 2014
However, Stig Abel, Managing Editor at The Sun, says his paper will not glorify the killing and will instead focus on celebrating the life of a kind and decent man.
Sun leader: "We are not publishing images from the video… We refuse to give his absurd murderers the publicity they crave." 1/2
— Stig Abell (@StigAbell) October 3, 2014
The latest multicultural controversy feels entirely manufactured, but I’ll bite anyway. Apparently, Pizza Express is serving Halal chicken to its customers, but not announcing this fact on its menus. The Sun is outraged, and the story was on the front page yesterday.
Unfortunately the entire article is behind a paywall, but I read it on paper and its a sneering, conspiratorial piece that seems to imply that this choice by Pizza Express is evidence of some creeping Islamic takeover of Britain. Continue reading Halal pizza and the demonisation of Muslims