I’d defend to the death your right to say anything… err, except for that

A question for the multiplicity of blogging non-bigots [*] who support the Ham & High’s decision to run an advert for the BNP ahead of the current London elections on Voltaire-ish ‘free speech for all, however disgraceful’ grounds: would you have supported the H&H on the same grounds had it run an advert advocating the legalisation of sex with children?

[the advert would be placed by a hypothetical paedo organisation that wanted to lower the age of consent to 10, but explicitly did not advocate breaking the current laws until any change was made - just to avoid any ‘but they’re inciting illegal activity so it's not the same’ get-outs].

If not, you’re already saying that some people should be denied a platform to advocate opinions that they hold perfectly legally, just because those opinions are vile and wrong – in which case, the only difference with the BNP is the degree to which the opinions advocated are vile and wrong. Which means that you’re saying “even though I sometimes believe in media self-censorship, the BNP should still be allowed a platform because they’re not all that bad”.

If you would have supported the editor’s decision to publish the paedo group’s advert, then you’re certainly consistent. I’m not sure that you’re in line with the general public’s moral compass, though…

[*] i.e. people who think that the BNP are scumbags. Those who think it’s possible simultaneously to be a non-bigot and not think that the BNP are scumbags are wrong, and should be ignored.

15 thoughts on “I’d defend to the death your right to say anything… err, except for that”

  1. In your hypothetical argument; yes I would, much as I would no matter how distateful. I would also support them if they published an advert arguing for the return of the death penalty, something else I find repugnant.

    I suppose the next question will be along the lines of is there any subject that cannot be argued for and off the top of my head I can't think of one.

    Here's a question for you: If you are for banning free speech on the BNP what do you say to those who would ban your right to free speech because they find your views repugnant?

  2. but it's all about definitions of freedom of speech.

    the bnp and the hypothetical paedos are both free to hold and expound their views without fear of arrest and in the knowledge that those who do violence against them wil be arrested. I support that and would strongly disklike anyone who didn't.

    but i'm not sure that gives either group the right to run adverts in the media without people justifiably believing the media editor has made an error of judgment…

  3. "but i’m not sure that gives either group the right to run adverts in the media without people justifiably believing the media editor has made an error of judgment… "

    And what exactly does that have to do with the price of fish?

    That is precisely my level of support. The BNP has the right to buy advertising space and the editor has the right to sell it. Part of the price of using free speech to say things that other people find objectionable is that other people then think you are objectionable. That's completely uncontentious. It has precisely nothing to do with definitions of freedom of speech.

    As the editor himself says: "In our editorial column we have made clear what we think of the BNP."

    That is probably the best of both worlds. Legitimate political parties get to campaign and are not able to present themselves as "free speech martyrs" and, simultaneously, what they say is shown to be objectionable. This is precisely how things should work.

  4. That’s completely uncontentious. It has precisely nothing to do with definitions of freedom of speech.

    Look, there are two sides in this controversy (three, but the BNP one can be ignored).

    One side is saying "what the editor did was right because of freedom of speech, even though the BNP are awful"; the other is saying "what the editor did was wrong, because freedom of speech doesn't entail the right to have your views published".

    The people who think the editor was wrong aren't saying that he should be thrown in jail – just that he was wrong. It's entirely possible to believe in freedom of speech and that the editor was wrong at the same time, and that's the argument you aren't engaging with.

  5. I don't really see how you can compare a concrete case (BNP) with a piece of purely hypothetical speculation (Paedos wanting licensed sex at 10). It is, erm, rather artificial, isn't it? Apples and oranges, etc…

  6. I'd tend to agree that anyone who has the money to place an advert should be able to, as long as that advert is not in breach of the law and advertising standards regulations. Likewise, any ad space seller should have the right to refuse their custom if they so choose.

    The Ham and High's decision to run the ad was not in itself bad (just naive, assuming they didn't expect a backlash). But at a guess, they probably could have been done under electoral impartiality regulations if they refused the BNP ad space while selling it to other parties.

    However, if it's true that they're now donating the BNP's payment to charity, that effectively means they've just given the BNP free advertising, doesn't it? Very odd.

  7. My answer is some ways redundant, but let's take it as a show of support for your original point.

    Of course both parties are legally allowed to perform that transaction; under no circumstances would I ever give the BNP advertising space in any hypothetical paper anyone's idiotic enough to let me run; it doesn't matter how scathing your editorial is the fact that they're prepared to display the advert itself reflects extremely badly on the paper and the editor.

    Though, if they ran the advert with a big sign in the space above it saying "The BNP are a bunch of wankers, if my wife voted for them I would spank her" (Though probably be best to leave the rampant and inexcusable misogyny out of it and the rhyme too), then they might be excused.

  8. I think you may be guilty of confusing the issue a little bit here, John. When you ask whether:
    … some people should be denied a platform to advocate opinions that they hold perfectly legally

    it makes it sound (though I know you don't say this explicity) as though you're talking about some kind of legal prohibition.

    For the record, I think it would be disastrous if a law were to be passed invoking criminal sanctions upon those who advertise such repugnant opinions; but at the same time, there's no way in hell I'd accept advertisements of those kind were I the editor of a publication.

    The editor in this case has indeed made "a grave error of judgement" (in my view) but that's a whole other kettle of fish from implying that perhaps the BNP should be legally prevented from advertising.

    One other thing though; and this has already been mentioned above; is it possible that there's some kind of legal requirement to allow legitimate (in the sense of 'legal') political parties to purchase advertising space?

  9. I'm very reluctant to control free speech, myself. I believe that generally you should be allowed to talk about anything you wish, as long as you don't cross the line into doing anything about it, or cause direct harm to others. The test I prefer is the 'yelling "Fire" in a crowded theatre' example, which is where totally free speech is clearly wrong.

    I'm don't really support the current anti-terrorist legislation where even possession of documentation is a crime.

    So in answer to your question:
    a) The BNP or your theoretical organisation should be free to place adverts where they wish
    b) Equally, however, I would support the right of any editor/ proprietor of a newspaper to accept or reject any advert as he/she wishes. I think that there is a clear line between a papers editorial policy and its advertising policy, and in an ideally both should be completely separate to ensure that everyone has freedom to advertise their views.

  10. The Ham & High has two pages of adverts for "massage parlours".
    A number of the whores in these places will be trafficed/enslaved.
    I find these ads much viler than your hypothetical paedo example; I believe that by running them the Ham & High, Archant, the owning company, and indeed most of the local papers in this country are accessories to the crime of slavery. Aren't they?
    Is there any defence for it?

  11. "A number of the whores in these places will be trafficed/enslaved."

    I doubt that's true, especially now that most of eastern Europe doesn't have restrictions on migration to the UK and so slavery is a reasonably pointless option for all concerned. If any of the places advertised in the paper do actually involve forced prostitution, the police should be shot for not checking them out…

    But I doubt they do to any serious degree. The conflation of consenting prostitution with enforced sex slavery is a deliberate tactic of the puritan lobby (like the current daft campaign against strip clubs, which appears to be based on the statistic that rape levels in Camden rose three years before a strip club opened combined with the inability to tell the difference between getting your kit off for cash and being sold into slavery.)

  12. "I doubt that’s true, especially now that most of eastern Europe doesn’t have restrictions on migration to the UK and so slavery is a reasonably pointless option for all concerned."

    In Wood Green we've seen running battles in the streets between Albanian and Kurdish gangs. Mostly over drugs, but also over whores, the local police think. These guys don't run unionised shops paying minimum wage.

    Without voluntarily assuming the "puritan" label I'm uneasy about the massive spread of whorehouses and strip clubs which also engage in a little whoring on the side.
    Hermione Eyre in the Indie caught my eye over it today. it looks like nowadays the response to "So, if you think it should be legal and respectable you wouldn't mind your children doing it, and people having their dole stopped for refusing to work in it?" is "Yes, certainly".

    Which, irrationally or not, gives me the creeps.

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