Image Credit Sky News
Are you frightened to give offence? Is free speech dead?
Singer Anne-Marie and ITV have apologised for the “hurt” caused after Ant and Dec wore white tunics with headbands which featured Japan’s rising sun image. People might feel it links to a second world war past.
However, this flag has been used as a national symbol in Japan for centuries and appears commonly in adverts and popular culture.
This another example of people being ‘offended’ because something doesn’t align exactly with their world view.
This isn’t the only example.
There are real issues with free speech in Britain’s universities. A Policy Exchange Report in 2019 stated “Recent events, however, have revealed a chilling effect, with high profile campaigns to sack academics and fewer than four out of ten Leave-supporting students feeling able to share their views in class.”
It surveyed hundreds of students and stated: ” The danger is that academic freedom is being significantly violated due, in particular, to forms of political discrimination.”
You can see the report and download it here.
Selina Todd is a professor of modern history at Oxford, has been ‘no-platformed’ and now needs a security guard as she has ‘offended’ the LGB movement.
A report in the Times in February 2020 showed that in an anonymous poll, more than 80% felt that those who “share controversial opinions risk being professionally ostracised”. It said that one in six people working in the arts sector has been subject to gagging orders to control ‘dissenting voices’.
The most shocking example is that of Harry Miller, a former Humberside police officer. He liked and re-tweeted a comic verse about transgender people, and was visited by the police, with his re-tweet being recorded as a ‘non-crime hate incident’, and placed on his record.
It appears that about 66 people a day have been investigated in England and Wales for non-crime hate incidents, such tweeting on misgendering or something similar.
This is at a time when we have an epidemic of knife crime and rates of successful investigations into burglary, muggings and violence is at an all time low.
Fair Cop states that it is : “a group of individuals who have come together over shared concerns about police attempts to criminalise people for expressing opinions that don’t contravene any laws.”
They point out that other minority groups don’t seem to be getting the same promotion of their rights – they estimate the number of transgender people as between 200-500 thousand but say there are 13.9 million disabled people in the UK.
In Switzerland there was a referendum on 9th February 2020 which backed a new law specifically protecting LGBTQ+ people from discrimination or hate speech. People who “publicly degrade or discriminate” others on the basis of their sexual orientation can now face up to three years in jail.
What's The Law In The UK?
Under Article 10 of the Human Rights Act 1998, “everyone has the right to freedom of expression” in the UK. But the law states that this freedom “may be subject to formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society”.
Those restrictions may be “in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, for the protection of the reputation or rights of others, for preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, or for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary”.
Section 4 of the Public Order Act 1986 (POA) makes it an offence for a person to use “threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour that causes, or is likely to cause, another person harassment, alarm or distress”. This law has been revised over the years to include language that is deemed to incite “racial and religious hatred”, as well as “hatred on the grounds of sexual orientation” and language that “encourages terrorism”.
The Terrorism Act 2006 criminalises “encouragement of terrorism” which includes making statements that glorify terrorist acts.
Section 127 of the Communications Act 2003 makes it illegal to send a message via a public electronic communications network that is considered grossly offensive, or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character.
Prospect magazine suggests we in the UK need a US style First Amendment, as part of a UK ‘constitution’. It refers to Alan Rusbringer saying there is no right to free speech in English law, when his Guardian team had to destroy their computers.
We didn’t know this. What started as a bit of a joke about ‘giving offence’ turned into something much more serious.
Research showed some worrying trends and we hope that free speech can be balanced with avoiding hate speech.