The Blog

Liberty: In Name Only

Freedom of speech and freedom of expression, these are things that we take for granted here in the UK. However, upon closer inspection the façade of liberty fades away quickly. Lip service is always paid to these rights, but their words are hollow and void. They begin by saying "I'm for free speech" and I always sit precariously on the edge of my seat waiting for the disheartening and inevitable word "but" to follow. This renders the first half of the sentence completely null.

This rhetoric does not stand alone though, to its right stands restrictions written into law, restrictions that infringe on your human rights and to its left stands courts that will punish you for violating these restrictions. In this country, we do not have freedom of speech and we do not have freedom of expression. We need to stop lying to ourselves.

In the public order act of 1986 it states in part 1 section 4A that a person can be fined or imprisoned if they use insulting language that causes someone to be distressed. Insulting language! This is absurd! And indeed very frightening. What counts as an insult? Well according to the oxford English dictionary it can be defined as speaking to or treating someone with disrespect. You can have your liberty stripped from you if someone reacts negatively to disrespect. Never mind if disrespect is just.

Also if we look at the Communications Act of 2003, section 127, it states that you can be prosecuted if you send a message that is indecent, obscene or menacing. Who decides what is indecent or obscene? Well that entirely depends on who you ask. If I were to ask a conservative Muslim, they might say that to them drawings of Mohammed are indecent and obscene. Just ask the thousands who protested against Charlie Hebdo after the brutal barbarism that took place there. It just shows that the terms used are far too pliable, they can be twisted and distorted so that pretty much anything said is prosecutable.

Also the wording of the section gives rise to the fact that no one even needs to be aggrieved or even offended by the statement to be illegal. The statements are intrinsically illegal by the fact that someone might find them obscene or indecent. With these written into law, we do not have freedom of speech.

Even our Human Rights Act of 1998 does not throw its full weight behind what it states to promote. For example, Article 10, paragraph 2 gives a list of reasons when freedom of expression may be prohibited. Out of the list I want to draw attention to two of the reasons given. Firstly, it states that freedom of expression may be prohibited to protect morals. First of all, whose morals? What morals? Every individual has their own set of morals. How can something this subjective be law? I don't have the words for how exasperated I am.

Secondly, the act says that your freedom of expression can be infringed upon to protect someone's reputation. Please note that it does not make any distinction between true statements or false statements. True statements that tarnish someone's reputation are just as fair game as false ones. I dare say that the revelations about David Cameron's fraternity antics somewhat tarnished his reputation. Under this act if the government wanted to penalize, punish or imprison you for sharing that news story, they would have been well within their rights to do so. Which to me is an outrage as it gives the government power to censor news that would otherwise be important to the public.

Why does the myth that we have freedom of speech and freedom of expression here in the UK still persist? I think we are just in denial. We don't want to think of ourselves that way. Maybe we think we are above that sort of thing. But we are not above it. Our denial has sleepwalked us into this situation and we must get out. As the common saying states, the first step in solving a problem is to admit that you have one. And we have a problem. You might agree with these provisions but please, if you do, don't then say that we have freedom of speech. And if you disagree with these laws, speak up. Speak up before you are not allowed to speak at all.