The end of freedom of speech?

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.

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5 thoughts on “The end of freedom of speech?

  1. so i assume this means that anything we say on facebook wall, or any of those picture things that are directed at one or other of the politicians are also illegal???? asd they are shared in messages on there.

    • Not sure how Facebook works these days – not used it for years. Basically, though, it will pay to be careful from now on.

      And retweeting on Twitter will be argued as being the same as sending – which, let’s be fair, it is. So that needs care too.

      The way things are going, it’s not going to be possible to publicly hold anybody to account in case it distresses them or makes them anxious!

  2. i see so its ok for this B lot in B westminster to upset 1000s of people no..millions of people but we cant upset the spoiled brats who are ruling (and ruining) our B lives……………….. oooooooooooo im so B angry.

    • It’s not just them, of course – it applies to everybody. In theory. How eager the police would be to rush to my aid, of course – or yours – remains to be seen. And it all hinges on the “sending” aspect, as I said in the post. Giving politicians a good kicking in a blog post is, as far as I can see, still permitted, subject, as ever, to the constraints of libel. However, putting the same words in an email and sending it to the politician would get you arrested.

      I strongly suspect that if I were to report IDS for distressing me – of course he’d have to send me an offensive message first – I wouldn’t get very far.

      However, there are people to whom he’s sent messages which caused them distress – some have been in the papers – so he could find himself on the receiving end of a prosecution (I’m not sure when this law dates from – I think it’s pretty recent), and if I remember correctly there are already a couple of people in jail because of it.

      If it’s as new as I think it is, it was probably introduced because of Twitter, and the pointlessness of suing someone for libel who has no money or property. Now, as long as there is a communication between the two parties – a tweet, email, or letter (or maybe FB), then do not pass go, do not collect £200 – go directly to jail! There is still no money in it for the “injured” party, but at least the “offender” is punished.

      That, I am quite sure, is the reasoning behind this law.

      • could it possibly be another way for them all to cover themselves from the calls to charge certain MPs with crimes against humanity? hell of a lot of people doing that now. one i do know of who is taking it to the court of Human rights. of course whatever the outcome of that, it will be ignored by those accused as they think they are above the law.

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