Monday, 24 February 2014

Censorship, censorship everywhere and not a chance to think...

You think you can say what you like? Think again. This blog has been routinely blocked by O2 and EE using stupid internet filters that treat adult consumers like children. O2 regularly makes Barry Butler, a freelance ESOL teacher from the Midlands, jump through absurd hoops every time he tries to read this blog and finds it has been blocked. 

EE has also been guilty of preventing adult customers from accessing this blog - this is especially ridiculous given that EE sponsored the BAFTA awards the other week. Let me see if I understand. We have a phone company that has prevented adults from accessing the internet in its entirety putting its name to a celebration of the British film industry. That would be an industry which over the years has given the world some of the most brilliant, subversive and controversial contributions to the cultural landscape. 

Corporations are already doing the work of the government whose plans for internet filtering are anti-free speech in the extreme. There is an alarming dearth of opposition to these plans in the House of Commons or the House of Lords. If that doesn't strike you as the start of an ominous future of restricted speech and expression, we need to sit down and have a little chat.

And then we have the mob mentality which seeks to silence anything offensive. Personally, I think Katie Hopkins is an attention-seeking professional troll. I don't tune in when she is on TV, I don't follow her on Twitter, I simply cannot be bothered with her nonsense. But she has every right to spout whatever it is that she says. The same goes for lads' mags, Frankie Boyle, Seth McFarlane, Sarah Silverman and anyone or anything else that people have sought to ban.

Campaigning website wasted bandwidth with an e-petition to remove Katie Hopkins from ITV and Channel 5 after she she tweeted something tasteless after the helicopter crash in Scotland late last year. And, by jingo, it worked! Hopkins was indeed dropped from ITV's This Morning programme. Seriously, it is far saner to just not watch her if you don't like her. Frankly, I'd be happy if Keith Lemon, Citizen Khan, Mrs Brown's Boys or Chris Lilley never appeared on TV again because they're all about as funny as burning orphans but starting up an e-petition is childish and misses the point. 

Once you seek to ban something just because you don't like it, there is no reason why something you do like cannot be banned too.

We also have problematic discussions when it comes to banning hate speech. The thing is we don't actually need any more laws on hate speech. The UK already has laws against verbal abuse as well as physical abuse. If you yell something awful at someone and it causes distress or upset, you have broken the law and the judge will have to consider the hate speech aspect of it when sentencing. Similarly, if someone is beaten up for whatever reason, this is against the law and the judge again has to take into account whether there is any hateful motivation, such as racism or homophobia, when passing sentence. The impact of such abuse should be pretty obvious - I don't want to live in a society where it is acceptable to beat someone up for any reason - and in the case of assaults, either verbal or physical, that are motivated by hate, education is just as important as harsh sentences.

But this does not mean someone should not be allowed to speak out against issues such as same sex marriage or further immigration. I may find the views of someone opposed to marriage equality or immigration from certain nations absurd, illogical, unconstructive, unpleasant or just plain moronic - but if their views are silenced as "hate speech" there is nothing to stop other opinions also being shut down. If you start cutting down the right to express opinions, even ones with which you violently disagree, you automatically restrict your right to refute it.

And then there are more insidious ways that we are censored. 

The "gagging law" passed through Parliament, albeit with a few minor amendments and there was no mass outrage because, basically, people didn't take the time to understand it or think about how it might affect them. It imposes ridiculous requirements on lobbying groups (but not corporations...) in the run-up to elections and is essentially aimed at silencing groups such as trade unions and the implications go beyond silencing some rowdy unionists. Hint: If a law is opposed by various groups across the political spectrum, groups who typically disagree with each other, it's probably a bad law. The bureaucracy that will be involved in monitoring the membership lists and campaign spending of lobby groups flies in the face of government claims that they are all about spending less public money and being a libertarian party of small government. 

And just today I was tweeting in my other guise at the @Save_St_Helier account, whereby I am part of a campaign to try and retain vital services at my local hospital, such as A&E, maternity, renal and kids' intensive care. A few of us asked faceless bureaucrats in the Twitterverse for some transparency in relation to a process which has so far cost taxpayers £8.2 million. How the hell was a review of local healthcare services costing us so much money? 

We finally found out that £1.874 million of our money was paid to 2020 Delivery, one of those vague consultancies whereby a peruse of their website leaves you none the wiser about what they actually do. All we were told by the bureaucrats was that the £1.874 million was spent on "finance and activity monitoring and travel and transport analysis". But we can't really find out a whole lot more because Freedom of Information legislation does not apply to private companies, only public bodies. It's just another way to stop the free flow of information, to drive people who are using their freedom to publicly ask questions into a brick wall and to keep us passive and quiet.

I'm exhausted. I apologise for this blog post rambling all over the place but once you start looking at the ways in which we are censored, the ways in which the flow of information is restricted, the ways in which we seek to ban that which we dislike without thinking through the consequences, you soon discover a multi-headed hydra of anti-freedom bullshit has grown before your very eyes. Now, who wants to help me slay the hydra? It's a big job but it's one of the most important jobs we will ever do.   

Image: "Resurrection de la Censure", JJ Grandville

No comments:

Post a Comment