Well, well, well. I was reminded this week that I’ve become lazy and dropped the ball on my freedom of speech project by several news items. The first was, at least to me, a real shocker. Reminding us that the K in UK stands for Kingdom, the Queen of England has issued a royal charter that has severely curtailed her subjects’ freedom of expression. To me, this is a mind-boggeling outrage. The ostensible reason for this seizure of power is the phone hacking scandal which, it is important to remember, was not revealed by the police or other authorities, but by competing newspapers. Clearly, the phone hacking scandal is nothing more than an excuse and a pretty poor one at that. To have your liberties taken away by a Queen issuing a decree. . . . Really, I just don’t know what to say. When are you getting rid of that medieval remnant?
I consider myself a liberal, a progressive, someone who’s moderately left of center and all that, so I don’t think I need to tell anyone what I think of Rupert Murdoch. However, principles are principles. The hacking scandal should have landed the creep in jail with criminal charges. The current decree doesn’t seem to address the real problem.
Interestingly, back in Murdoch’s birth country, new media regulations have already come and gone.
A rather different situation emerged recently in Canada.
One subject that I intend to eventually take up, and one of the main reasons I’m moving slowly over the historical development of the freedom of speech and trying to wrap my head around the principles involved, is the question of laws against hate speech. Here in the U.S., we have few laws of this sort. However, they represent a growing body of laws around the world and we’ve been hearing more calls for similar laws to be passed here.
I grew up in a world in which people on the left tended to be more enthusiastic supporters of freedom of speech than people on the right. Recently these roles have been reversed, yet I have not changed my own beliefs on the subject, a situation which puts me at odds with many people with whom I am otherwise political allies.
In the province of Quebec, a young man Matthieu Bonin, who sees himself as an internet humorist and comedian (with a maudit bel accent), was charged with the crime of hate speech (in French) for saying, in a context which appeared to not be serious, that he hoped that someone would shoot up the National Assembly, Quebec’s provincial legislative body. The charges were dropped, because, if I understand correctly, members of the National Assembly are not an identifiable group warranting protection. This case has within it all sorts of interesting implications that I think it might be worth examining at length later despite the fact that the charges were dropped. (ht Leonid Sirota at Double Aspect)