Freedom of speech has always been something of a chimera. It is not an absolute right, coming, as it does, bundled with the expectation of seriously expensive consequences if you libel or slander someone.
However, the right to say anything unflattering or critical of pretty much anybody would seem to be under threat as such an offence has apparently migrated from the realm of civil law and become a crime.
In the Guardian there’s a report that two men have been charged with making “malicious communications” in the case of murdered schoolteacher Anne Maguire (to whom is unclear). The article contains this nugget which should worry anyone who considers themselves a campaigner or an activist, especially on a social medium, like Twitter:-
“The Crown Prosecution Service defines malicious communications as “the sending to another of any article which is indecent or grossly offensive, or which conveys a threat, or which is false, provided there is an intent to cause distress or anxiety to the recipient.” ”.
The “intent” part, of course, is a total crock, as it’s impossible for the sender to prove what their intention was, and it will doubtless be sufficient for the recipient to claim that they were distressed and/or made anxious. And how would the sender prove otherwise?
You might, though, feel it’s reasonable for the recipient to have to prove your intention – you know, innocent until proven guilty – best of luck with that. Cynical? Hell, yeah!
So tweeting, let’s say, a politician to the effect that they are a psychopath and should be behind bars, could see the sender getting their collar felt.
The same would apply to email and snail mail, of course – the act of “sending” is clearly critical to the definition – so one might reasonably assume that newspaper articles, in print or online, or blog posts, do not fall under the terms of this act, as nothing is sent. To be offended or made anxious, the person would have to actively seek them out and read them.
But newspapers sent physically or electronically to a subscriber who is featured would seem to be a bit of a worryingly grey area, and for the same reason it would pay to check that the subject of your ire, if you’re a campaigning blogger, isn’t a subscriber to your blog, as they would then be sent your posts (that’s how this blog works anyway, I assume other platforms are broadly similar). If they are subscribers, remove them.
Mind how you go… It’s not as safe out there as it was.