Aasof on Freedom of Expression (Speech)
This week on Facebook: In the 10th edition of their Democracy Index, the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) recently reported the worst performance in global democracy since 2010-11 in the aftermath of the global economic and financial crisis. A special focus of this year’s report is the state of media freedom around the world and the challenges facing freedom of speech. The report aims to give a snapshot of democracy worldwide and includes 165 independent states and two territories which cover almost the entire world population.
Five categories are used to score each country: electoral process and pluralism, civil liberties, the functioning of government, political participation, and political culture. Based on around 60 indicators each country is placed into one of four types of regime: “full democracy”, “flawed democracy”, “hybrid regime” or “authoritarian regime”. The Democracy Index regards freedom of expression as essential for democracy to take root and flourish. The quality of democracy in any country may in large measure be gauged by the degree to which freedom of speech prevails. Societies that do not tolerate dissent, heresy and the questioning of conventional wisdom cannot be “full democracies”.
Also in the 10th edition of the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU)¹
This section explains why freedom of speech is the most important freedom of all and a prerequisite for establishing a healthy democracy, discussing the particular challenges confronting free speech and media freedom in the seven regions covered by the Democracy Index. In it the UK’s anti-terror laws have been widely criticised for curbing the exercise of freedom of expression in the name of protecting public order and national security. A vague and wide definition of the term terrorism means that the law can be deployed to clamp down on a wide range of social and political protests. For example, recent legislation outlaws “indirect encouragement” or “other inducement” of terrorism. These imprecise and broad prohibitions have the potential to criminalise freedom of expression and could curb debate about issues of public interest.
‘From the police point of view… theft, burglary, even violent crime will not be the predominant police feature. What will be the matter of greatest concern will be the covert and ultimately overt attempts to overthrow democracy, to subvert the authority of the state, and, in fact to involve themselves in acts of sedition designed to destroy our parliamentary system and the democratic government in this country.’ [James Anderton the Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police on BBC Question Time in 1979]
The above remark made by Anderton nearly forty years ago could be regarded as prescient. Yet I doubt that even he envisaged a surveillance society as being one in which the State supported the police neglect of their attestation to uphold fundamental human rights. Despite the attestation’s retention of the requirement that the police have a duty to prevent all offences against people and property — theft, burglary and even violent crime, are now ceasing to be the predominant police feature. The matter of greatest concern to the police appears to be that of pursuing legitimate private and public opinion, which are then conflated into acts of sedition.
In the UK Laws passed by Acts of Parliament are rarely put to their intended use²
An obsession with surveillance and a professed concern about violations of the right to the confidentiality of sources did not prevent the UK introducing a new data protection bill to parliament in December 2017 that undermined the ability of journalists to pursue investigative and public interest reporting. Clause 164 of the bill gives those being investigated the right to delay or stop journalistic reports before they are shown or published. At the same time the UK has passed one of the most draconian surveillance laws of any democracy, seriously undermining the rights of its citizens to privacy and freedom of expression. This despite previously reported abuse of powers by the State and its public administration.
In 2009, the British police were accused of misusing this and other counterterrorism related laws in an effort to quash otherwise peaceful protests. A one-year inquiry was launched, resulting in a 70-page report produced by the joint committee on human rights detailing evidence of abuse of police powers under the Terrorism Act.
Parliament is eroding freedom of speech and equality under the law: This is not a banal story about cakes and newspapers. It is the very stuff of freedom.
Freedom of expression — A fundamental human right underpinning all civil liberties: Freedom of expression and information are pillars of a healthy democratic society and for social and economic growth, allowing for the free flow of ideas necessary for innovation and bolstering accountability and transparency. “Journalism thrives when media is free and independent, when journalists are safe to report, when impunity is the exception,” said UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova.
Freedom of Expression in China — A Privilege, Not a Right: The only people in China who can publish criticisms of, or opinions contrary to those of, the Communist Party, are senior members of the Communist Party. One example of this group is Li Rui, a retired senior Communist Party official and former aide to Mao Zedong, who earlier this year published a letter in the Beijing magazine “China Chronicle” calling for greater democracy in China’s government:
Europe’s Freedom of Speech Fail: One that silences the perceived enemies of an open society, has not only taken root at the national level but is increasingly the guiding philosophy of European institutions. The final limits on free speech in Europe are ultimately determined by the European Court of Human Rights, which is under the auspices of the Council of Europe and the European Convention on Human Rights. The court views hate speech as an “abuse” of convention rights and therefore allows it no legal free speech protections. This sets a relatively low bar for the protection of controversial speech across 47 European states and leaves wiggle room for states eager to exploit such openings to further expand the permissible limits on expression.
Restricting free speech isn’t the solution to violence and hate speech: Whether politics or comedy, left-wing, right-wing, or apolitical, free speech permeates every aspect of life. What’s more is that censorship has led to some of the world’s greatest tragedies and most oppressive authoritarian regimes.
Referenced Articles & Books: A book or pdf (usually free), or simply a url that may sometimes link to a download that is also usually free. Sometimes a link to JSTOR is used, this lets you set up a free account allowing you to have 6 (interchangeable) books stored that you can read online.
¹Democracy Index 2017 Free speech under attack (full report – pdf) In this 2017 report, Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) put a special focus on free speech as “the most important liberty of all” and created a “Media Freedom Index” to measure the state of the freedom of expression worldwide. According to this new index, still less than half of the world population has access to free or partially free media and only 30 out of 167 countries were classified as “fully free”. Unsurprisingly there was a direct correlation with the Democracy Index ranking.
²Global Trends in NGO Law (pdf) The right to freedom of expression is protected by a multitude of regional and international treaties, charters, and frameworks. According to Article 19(2) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), a formally binding legal treaty ratified by 165 nations that echoes in key respects the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR):
Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include the freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.
A.P. Herbert AI Albert Haddock Banks blog book books budget budget deficit C.S. Lewis censorship China Civil Service constitution Crime CRT cryptocurrency CWG debt deficit democracy economics education ethics EU euro fiat money Film France freedom of expression free trade gdp government history human-rights inequality internet J M Keynes language Law Ludwig Von Mises Margaret Thatcher Matt morality music Musical national debt New Labour NHS opinion parody PFI poetry police Police & Crime Commissioners politics Quantitative Easing research school Screwtape Sir Ethelred Rutt K.C. social-media Social Media Social Welfare statistics T.E. Utley taxation terrorism Thatcher UK Unemployment USA Victor Hugo war war on terror
© Peter Barnett and Aasof’s Relections. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Aasof and Aasof’s reflections with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.