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The Importance of Freedom of Speech and Freedom of the Press

One thing I love about Britain is the diversity of the opinion in the national newspapers. I may despise the Guardian but I always have the Telegraph. I was talking to my girlfriend’s father, a “alternative” newspaper owner (one that talks about restaurants and such, not really a newspaper or tabloid) and I explained the British national newspaper alignment as one that represents different views and different audiences, from the low brow politically conservative Sun to the “hip people serving” quasi leftist (occasionally economically right) Independent all the way up to the old and upper class conservative Times as being a good system, where everybody can find their ideological and social home. In America, our print and television media is monolithically left wing (left in the sense of loving the Democrats not reading Marx necessarily) except for those outlets owned by Rupert Murdoch (Fox News, the New York Post and the Wall Street Journal). Conservatives in America on the other hand almost entirely own the radio waves unless it is NPR, but talk radio has little “clout” among politicians in Washington and like Fox News, talk radio is listened to primarily by just conservatives. Obama and his subservient media by and large have not been covering his scandals, just to name five: the US government’s cover up of their reaction to Benghazi, their having the IRS target the administration’s political opponents, their selling of guns to violent Mexican cartels to frame political opponents, their subponaening phone records from the AP to target a reporter, and their targeting civilians with drone attacks  Thus, I think Britain has done a good job maintaining a freedom of the mainstream press and hopefully Lord Leveson’s rules don’t get expanded. Freedom and independence of the press has done well for Britain since it came about in 1689. Edmund Burke even called it the “fourth estate” in a just nation. However, there is a trend that is disturbing in Great Britain: the arresting of people for posts put on the internet, whether on twitter or facebook.

The internet is a place where undoubtedly some of the ugliest and nastiest comments are posted. Read any political article on news websites throughout the free world and you will find comments made that our rude and inconsiderate. Not thought out and cruel. Read any post by David Cameron and you will see commentors saying horrible things about him that usually have nothing to do with the post. Protected by one’s computer screen people feel they can mean without repercussion. However, arrests by British police of people that write posts that are hateful, no matter how rude is wrong. People have a freedom of speech in our democracy, John Stuart Mill called it the “marketplace of ideas”. So by arresting people because a post is insensitive we are silencing those whom bother us and deprive people the right of self-expression, which harms a democracy. I’m afraid that with the passage of gay marriage in Britain, for instance, these arrests for impolite comments will only increase, yet they will only breed resentment of the government, not combat homophobia. I’ve heard even before the passage of gay marriage preachers have been arrested for stating comments consistent with the Bible regarding homosexuality. I hope the government will stay true to its word with the passage of gay marriage and protect the rights of religion to not only not preform gay marriages (which I think they will do considering both the Church of England and the Catholic Church doctrinally opposing gay marriage) but of allowing those religions to express their views whether from the pulpit or online. I further hope that British police will not arrest people anymore for rude posts in the social media unless there is a threat of immediate violence. I believe with a policy of openness to speech the British people will decide for themselves the best ideas to purchase from the marketplace of ideas.  

About Ted Yarbrough

Profile photo of Ted Yarbrough
Ted is the co-founder and editor of the Daily Globe. He is a long-time blogger on British politics and has written a thesis on Thatcherism. He is based in San Diego, California, USA.

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