Friday, 9 January 2015

Free Speech Depends on Where You Are

I would normally just be having a quiet little chuckle over the news that Nottingham Labour has suspended Cllr Rosemary Healy for retweeting a satire of the Tories latest election poster, along with her ludicrous defence that she had no idea what the picture was.

I mean, it's not Skegness beach is it?

Even Ed Milliband, on a day trip to Hucknall, waded in saying the tweet was “objectionable and totally wrong”. Blimey.

But then of course the Charlie Hebdo killings happened in Paris and suddenly publishing extremely offensive satirical cartoons is a cornerstone of free speech. Frankly, if you haven't yet published a cartoon of the prophet Mohammed in a compromising position by now you are an enemy of freedom, truth and light. Well,  that's if all the media organisations pledging to keep the magazine going and reprinting their cartoons in 'solidarity' are anything to go by. Leftlion had a go at doing some of their own, see if you can guess which one they later described on Facebook as a picture of a 'typical terrorist'.

Let me pause briefly to say that I'm not arguing equivalence here. On the one hand, 12 people were shot dead in cold blood, on the other, a minor local politician has had the whip suspended but is otherwise unhurt, not even financially. I am about to criticise some of the Charlie Hebdo output but let's make no mistake; no matter how offensive you are a death sentence, especially an extra-judicial one, can never be justified.

But the consequences of your actions in themselves don't make any difference as to whether you were expressing free speech or not. To my mind, many of the Charlie Hebdo cartoons are way more offensive than the Thomas pride mock-up, yet the former is 'free speech' now and the latter 'objectionable and totally wrong' apparently. I can't quite square that myself.

The fact is that we don't have absolute free speech and neither should we. We have legal limits to what we can print or say in order to prevent defamation, harassment and hatred/incitement etc, as do most countries. Those laws probably aren't perfect but the key point is that free speech has limits. My own view is that a few of the Charlie Hebdo cartoons I've seen cross those limits (I understand they have indeed been prosocuted under French hate-crime laws on occasion), the Thomas Pride mock-up really doesn't.

The killings of the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists are not a free speech issue, they are a 'turning up at someone's workplace and murdering them is never justified, even if they have been dicks' issue. Healy's suspension is merely the local Labour Party disappearing up itself.

1 comment:

between-the-lines said...

British politics - full of double standards as usual. Whatever else, the councillor has shown herself up very badly. She's either completely ignorant, or she's ...

At a guess from Tom Pride's politics (looking at his blog) I'm sure he's laughing hugely at what he's brought out with this one, though I don't see, if any excuse were needed, that Polishness would be any "excuse". LOL, or maybe that's only more satire on his part.

The thing with satire is, it's dangerous. And that danger can erupt in unpredictable directions.

Unlike Cameron and Miliband, when you poke fun at some people they are liable to retaliate, not in kind, but with physical violence, eg some blokes down the pub. It may also be free speech to go down there and mock their beer bellies or chat up their girlfiends, but do you really want to test it out?