All posts by John B

A quick note on free speech

As far as I can make out, “the right to free speech” means something like “the state will not take action against you for voicing your opinions, no matter how vile, and people who commit illegal acts against you for voicing your opinions will not avoid prosecution just because your opinions are deemed vile”.

If “the right to free speech” meant “the right to be on TV”, or “the right to write a column in the Daily Mail”, then I’m not sure many people would be in favour of it.

For example, I’m distressed that I don’t get to write a column in the Daily Mail, as I’d love to watch the number of breakfast-time heart attacks across Middle England soar whilst I advocated free immigration, heroin on the NHS and legalised bestiality [*]. A six-figure salary would be nice, too.

But I’m not sure that I’d agree with someone who suggested that my right to free speech was being infringed by Paul Dacre’s bizarre refusal to grant me that position. Indeed, given the number of passable writers who’d love a columnist position on the Daily Mail (hell, even if you only include the ones who’re actually right-wing rather than trolling), I’d question that person’s sanity.

And this is why Matthew Parris’s latest column is complete nonsense: he thinks that if the BBC had refused to invite Nick Griffin on Question Time, and if the Daily Mail had refused to publish Jan Moir’s mean-spirited rant about Stephen Gately, it would have been an assault on free speech.

But obviously, it wouldn’t.

Nick Griffin has the right to tell anyone that he’s mates with an “almost-non-violent chapter of a (not the, of course) KKK”; Jan Moir has the right to tell anyone that “those gays are always with the drugs and the suspicious deaths”. But neither of them has the right to expect anyone to listen to them, and they certainly don’t have the right to expect anyone to publish or broadcast their opinions.

(there’s an argument that, because some semi-evolved chimps support the BNP and also pay the TV licence fee, the BBC ought to reflect their views. That isn’t a completely stupid position, but it’s not about freedom of speech.)

The usually-sensible-on-these-kind-of-issues libertarian Mr Eugenides gets this wrong too:

Even if so – even if I agreed [that it’s wrong to give scumbags a platform] – who is to decide who are the scumbags, and who are not? The Electoral Commission? The controller of BBC1? David Dimbleby? The editors of Liberal Conspiracy?

But in this case, the editors of Question Time did make a decision: that Nick Griffin was a man who should be on Question Time. The same week, they decided that me, Mr Parris and Mr Eugenides were all not people who should be on Question Time. Editorial decisions here are essential, not optional…

[*] subject to animal cruelty laws, obviously.

Being away

I’m sitting in the 18th floor of a tower block somewhere subtropical, overlooking the sea. Currently I’m inside, but with the large bay windows open, getting some evening sunshine – I may shortly head out to the terrace for full-on last rays action. On the minus side, I’ve been working today, but it hasn’t been absolute hell. Almost pleasant, even.

Meanwhile, back in Britain… I hear the weather has been OK, in the sense of ‘only quite cold and only a bit rainy’. I hear the entire world and their dog has gone into spasms of lunacy after a daft fat bigot got vaguely humiliated on a TV show, but also picked up a few new idiot fans (even though a similar-looking bigot with the same views is accepted and awarded as a national newspaper columnist with barely any fuss from anyone).

On that one, I’m glad I wasn’t around for the debate. As far as I can make out, the assembled Great And Good [*] made a stupid and ignorant man look stupid, ignorant but also victimised, whilst actually agreeing with his fundamental thesis (“immigration is terribly bad and BNP voters are right to be concerned about it, so we’ll make our already-lunatic-hard restrictions even tougher”).

It’s another reminder of how, if you’re a socially liberal supporter of a market-driven economy with around-OECD-average levels of taxation and regulation [**], free migration and free speech, who also thinks that UAF are a daft bunch of tossers, British politics at the moment is a bit depressing.

The fact that the mainstream parties are engaged in a deeply stupid (tough on crime, tough on immigration, ‘too many human rights’, ‘we must cut the deficit now’) consensus on most issues is hardly surprising. The fact that the far Right are scumbags is pretty much definitional. But what else is there? The Greens don’t believe in markets and are more or less the opposite of liberal; the left-of-Labour narrative hasn’t yet been set but is unlikely to focus on social liberalism (if it did, I’d excuse the economics); and to the extent that the Lib Dems have expressed an opinion on anything, they’re mainstream-consensus.

And I’m frankly bored of London, bored of long work-weeks and infinite stress from above and below, bored of endless overpriced drinks in the same pubs, bored of the Tube, bored of mornings, bored of blogging (see: number of posts on this blog that aren’t Twitter roundups).

The sun’s setting. I’ll head outside. It’ll be pleasant. It’ll be different. It’ll be warm.

I could stay here.

[*] yes, I’m aware of the irony in using the words ‘great’ and ‘good’ to refer to Jack Straw.

[**] including banking regulation. The reason we and the US are so screwed right now is due to underregulation in the banking system; it has absolutely no bearing on the vast majority of companies that aren’t banks, and using it as an argument against market capitalism is Just Silly. Using it as an argument against dogmatic US Republican-style deregulation is exactly right, and should be done, but even the current Tory leadership isn’t daft enough to advocate that.

What I’ve been up to, week ending 2009-10-18

  • now using MySkyStatus – #
  • Duncan Bannatyne: prick – #
  • "I agree with C Hitchens that champagne among 4 most overrated things in the world, with lobster, picnics and anal sex" #
  • (note to self: do not go on a champagne and lobster picnic with C Hitchens) #
  • New rule of thumb: anyone who uses the term "simples" is an idiot who can safely be ignored and/or horsewhipped #
  • Denying Poles' involvement in Holocaust isn't as bad as Holocaust denial, but still pretty vile: #yayFry #booCesarani #
  • disappointed to miss @herring1967's live solo podcast, and this is my last Monday in the UK for 3 weeks. eh well, fun night anyway #
  • my cleaner charges gbp45pw = gbp2340pa for 2-bed flat. agree with @krishgm on this. #thescandalistheincompetencenottheexpenses #
  • In case you aren't following @realnickgriffin, do. NB 'real' may be artistic license #
  • delighted to see the planib #
  • delighted to see libel laws protecting fine #trafigura folk vs implication they may be callous bastards who'd let Africans die for a few $ #
  • Injunctions evil. Civil law shld be 'you did this, it hurt J Bloggs, pay him some $', not 'you might do this, but you'll get jail if you do' #
  • Alex Massie great, eg – but only matter of time b4 Speccie notice he's not identikit Bufton-Tufton & fire him #Trafigura #
  • Finally, an area where Tory policy is unequivocally better than Labour's: #stillnotvotingforem #
  • Check out "Let's Gag Carter-Ruck" on Oct 15th. RSVP at #gagCarterRuck #twvt #trafigura #
  • RT @chickyog #trafigura is trending. #
  • Haha, nice: RT @LonelyWonderer Are British libel laws #toxic and should we give a #CarterRuck ? #trafigura #
  • RT @PressGazette Guardian gagged from reporting Parliament #
  • If you pay a 3rd-world co' to do something and they don't, is it necessarily your fault – or is that a bit of a colonialist assumption? #
  • That part of original Grauniad piece also a bit ropey: "unqualified local man" had a government hazardous waste license #
  • …none of which excuses the gagging attempts, obviously. Oh, and nice to see Carter-Ruck trending #trafigura #
  • It isn't illegal to buy booze and *give* it to kids, only to *sell* it to them. Disturbing that booze retailers don't understand the law #
  • RT @chickyog I'd like the whole world to know about my blog. How much do Carter-Ruck charge for an injunction? #trafigura #
  • RT @mrjohnwilkes "You, Sir! Will you with me come to Westminster and fight 'pon the matter of LIBERTY?" #trafigura #
  • RT @nickjbarlow Guardian front page now mentioning #Trafigura and Paul Farrelly – Carter-Ruck now known as specialists in epic legal fail #
  • Does anyone still care about MP expenses? I mean, actually just not want the whole pointless, annoying saga to bugger off #
  • Anyone care to make a defence *in principle* of injunctions? What's wrong with just applying damages in civil cases? #
  • I like this, and suspect it's 90% true: #
  • I hear that @jonnelledge is tipped to be chief photo editor for Playgirl #
  • The Wehrmacht. They lost the war, now they've lost us the quiz #
  • Always listen to your PRs, not your lawyers – Pottinger-Bell was not behind Trafigura's decision to take legal action – #
  • Well, always listen to your PRs on stuff you're doing for PR, which includes libel. On H&S/employment law, always listen to your lawyers… #
  • Iraq. We're not there. We were there once (all-party-endorsed). We also held Calais. Relevance to any current debate is…? #
  • (reference to Afghan debate noted. But saying 'XXX voted for Iraq -> XXX is a war criminal' is moronic, unless XXX is actually Dick Cheney.) #
  • Some Yanks build phones that are nearly as good as Taiwanese ones from 2 years ago: why is this BBC news? #
  • RT @antonvowl: The penny drops for Londoners. Hilarious straw haired buffoon, great, but right here's where you start paying… #
  • If Parliament were to pass a Bill of Attainder against Adam Tudor, it'd be hard to oppose it… #
  • Officious Tube twunt needs fired – please RT: (via @LDN) #
  • RT @rblandford: Read this, then RT. Let's see if Twitter can bring down a homophobic Daily Mail columnist. #janmoir #
  • "Mark Speight's death strikes another blow to the happy-ever-after myth of straight partnerships" #janmoir #
  • Just got given a free subscription to the Staggers. Huzzah! #
  • Rude-Tube-man Internet WIN: #
  • Pub gossip: "that go-go dancer who owned the Spanish kebab shop is now in the Taliban". WIN #
  • That last tweet was courtesy of @thebuddhasmiled by the way #
  • I was planning to get up, but flatmate seems to be watching Coronation Street -> staying in bed appeals #
  • Does a point need missing? Does ignorant bigotry need spouted? Just call Frank Fisher #
  • liam gallagher is in the pub. he's smoking a fag and looking like a grumpy twat #

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…and while I’m on the ‘tort law’ topic

What’s the point of injunctions in cases of breach of civil law?

If someone breaks the criminal law, they should be punished. That’s why we have criminal courts.

But if someone’s planning to do something which might, if they do it, be against civil law, what on earth is the justification for turning *that* into a criminal, enforceable offence?

Concretely: if I call Robert Maxwell a fat, thieving, lying crook, then it’s fair enough that he should be allowed his day in court where I have to prove that he is a fat, thieving, lying crook [*].

But how in hell is it fair, just or rational that if Robert Maxwell hears that I’m planning on calling him a fat, thieving, lying crook, that he’s allowed to find a judge who’ll ban me from doing so on pain of criminal penalties?

[*] yes, again with the libel law reform. No, I don’t think that I *actually* ought to have to prove that, I think he should either prove the opposite in court or persuade interested parties that I’m not worth listening to: but I’m willing to concede all kinds of vile concessions against free speech for the purpose of debate.

Libel law reform

It’s clear from this week’s events, and indeed to everyone with access to either eyes or a braille reader, that English libel law is a disgrace that needs reformed.

As far as I can make out, the only objection to libel law reform is that in countries like the US with a sensible (i.e. unenforceable unless you’re a previously unheard-of member of the public or the libel is obviously malicious) libel system, mad buggers can get away with describing anyone vaguely heard-of as a demented antisemite/Islamophobe/etc.

I’ve yet, however, to hear any reason why this matters.

If you’re a serious commentator, some mad bugger describing you as an antisemite doesn’t make any odds at all. Similarly, if you’re a serious commentator, describing random selections of people as Islamophobes is likely to get you relegated to the “not serious commentator” pile in short order.

(and as someone who’s been maliciously libelled, whilst almost certainly counting as a public figure for US purposes, I can honestly say that the concept of using English libel law against the nutter in question was about the least appealing option in either my or my solicitor’s arsenal, despite the fact that we were both very clear I had a case and would have won).

But let’s assume, against all actual evidence, that libel laws provide some protection to the truth or to Brave Individuals Being Victimised By A Cruel System: in that case, let’s 1) provide legal aid to libel victims and aggressors [*], 2) cap all costs awards to a legal aid payscale. I can’t think of any way, even in the bizarre parallel world where serious people believe that Private Eye is a threat and James Goldsmith is a victim, that this would cause Terrible Injustice, and it means that the occasional poor (in both senses) sod smeared by the tabloids actually has a chance of redress. What’s not to like?

[*] the beauty of this system is that it’s entirely down to the reader to determine who’s whom, and hence doesn’t matter. Obviously I’m Arkell vs Pressdram on this.

What I’ve been up to, week ending 2009-10-11

  • Inbound plane has finally landed. So if nothing else goes wrong we'll only be 5 hours late #
  • Something else went wrong, so we were 5h45m late despite some heroic high-speed flying. Better get some bloody compo #
  • Poor red pandas, destined forever to disappoint people who click headlines about them #
  • like lionel blair, kate bush, keith bin laden, etc #
  • Ah, London. I love going to India, it makes our infrastructure seem amazing. Suspect Austria trip tomorrow will have opposite effect #
  • Slightly misleading of BBC to say 'no individual was prosecuted': the driver who caused it was killed! #
  • …and it's the end of my 39-hour day. Feel strangely energised. #
  • And it's another trip to LHR, this time to lecture Austrians on interior furniture. #
  • The wireless is free in Vienna Airport, and the beers are only €4.75 a half-litre. Congratulations, Austrians, on your lack of thievery. #
  • unequivocally, @PennyRed is wasted on blogging. Someone give her a columnist gig, please: #
  • Can access all media via mobile, except work email. If I had less to do, this'd be a Good Thing. #
  • just passed the Number 1 Fetish Shop. I suppose that's less horrific than the Number 2 Fetish Shop… #teutonicstereotypes #
  • Also passed the Hotel Goldenes Einhorn. wonder if they're affiliated? #
  • I hope she gets masses of compo: – although sadly the court can't order tabloid editors birched #
  • Evening now involves rather more working than previously planned. #tretcherusbasterds #
  • "This is a memorial to the soldiers of the Soviet Army who died in 1945 to free Austria" #unconventionalhistory #
  • What's wrong with drinking champagne, FFS? Does recession really mean we all need to become hair-shirted Methodists…? #
  • Wahey, it's *another* tedious puritanism scandal! #
  • Why on earth did Powers That Be decide to run LHR trains to suburban nowhere, rather than central London? #
  • And yes, Mr IK Brunel also scores a Massive Fail for that one. #
  • Cab driver listening to TalkSport. Consensus among callers is that England should be given World Cup because Premiership is quite good #
  • Not entirely sure whether they mean hosting, or just awarded-by-default. I suspect both. #
  • I hate Camden. And cabs. And general travelling whilst my friends have fun at my house. #curmudgeon #
  • I particularly hate cab drivers who're polite to other traffic. You're doing this on my time, so I shld get to choose who you let thru. #
  • …which is nobody, unless they've a blue light on the roof. #
  • Fafblog, making all other political commentary obsolete since 2003: #
  • Amused by, but unable to comment on for professional reasons, one of the current most-Twittered stories by UKmeeja types #
  • "Oxford slips in international university ranking as Asian rivals 'snap at heels" …except that # Asians in Top 20 = 0 #
  • Bleg time: pls to send me a Wave invite #googlewave #
  • Ways to deter fighting for digital rights: RT @Openrightsgroup Fight for digital rights and get free Cory Doctorow novel #
  • RT @quincytweetz I would have sold my brown cow for a beanstalk, too. #
  • Richly deserved RT @benlocker Delighted to see old people on train were so busy slagging off teenagers that they missed their stop. #
  • Listening to Neil Hannon's delightful Casanova. I miss political sex scandals. One of the few plusses of the next lot is we might have some #
  • I love the way halloumi squeaks when you eat it. I've never tried a live mouse kebab, but I'd give it a go… #
  • Hahahaha: RT @libcon Article:: TaxPayers' Alliance's director doesn't pay UK tax #
  • I like this: RT @alaindebotton The secret life of airline meals: #
  • Shorter Hugo Rifkind: "Harold Shipman lives next door, so it doesn't really matter if I bump off the occasional granny" #
  • Wow. Piccalilli and pastrami on toast makes a surprisingly excellent breakfast. Almost ready to face the pub… #
  • It's amazing how 28-days-later even Z2 London can look at 8am on a Sunday… #
  • "and out with the kegs of eau de vie" #
  • Peep Show excellent; 4OD abysmal. Not convinced overall re merits of merging C4 w/BBC, but if it got Peep Show on iPlayer I'd be all for it. #

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