From the University of East Anglia Law lecturer Paul Bernal writes this week’s commentary.
Racial Justice News
- Mark Duggan’s fingerprints and DNA not found on gun police claim he carried when he was shot dead
- Bedfordshire Police custody death man ‘screaming’, says witness
- Marine guilty of Afghanistan murder
- llegal migrants’ children denied access to education and housing – report
- MPs attack proposal to make landlords check immigration status of tenants
- Bungling border police stormed into ‘sham’ wedding of Harrods workers and halted it… before realising the marriage was genuine
- Barred: Home Office prevents drone victims visiting parliament
- Free schools failing on equalities, new research shows
- A Postcard from Britain – ‘Hostile Environment’, Border Control in Communities and Indefinite Immigration Detention
- Have your say on the Immigration Bill
- NHS charge for migrants ‘could hit the vulnerable’
- Ryanair Boss Michael O’Leary Says Ban The Burka, Brits ‘Leaning Over Too Much’ For Muslims
- UN human rights envoy urges UK to implement caste discrimination laws
- ITV news reader Charlene White defends decision not to wear poppy on air after racist abuse
Justice, Liberties & Rights
- ‘Growing up’ behaviour too often labelled antisocial, says police chief
- Atos, G4S paid no corporation tax last year despite carrying out £2billion of taxpayer-funded work
- In Britain, an Ominous Move to Conflate Journalism With Terrorism
- Nursing cuts putting NHS patients at risk, says new study
- If security at universities isn’t for students, who is it for?
- Sneaky electricity hikes to hit 2.6million of poorest homes this winter
- Revealed: How Big Six energy firms conceal their profits
- UK objects to attempt by Council of Europe to examine online spying
- Spy agency revelations: Tory peer urges ‘defenders of liberty’ to speak out
- Affordable homes facing demolition because of bedroom tax
- Met in secret court bid to force Sky News to hand over SAS source information
- Dad butchered Leeds family and spared ‘Aryan’ daughter
- Hamzah Khan: social services missed warning signs, report finds
- Leeds sex venues row could end with legal bid
- Leeds MP challenges Government over “bedroom tax”
- Call for probe into hospital treatment
- Bradford robbery victim ‘will never recover’
- Rural Yorkshire left out in cold as fuel poverty hits one in four
- Record numbers of people turning for help from Wakefield homeless charity
- Minister to face MPs over claim HS2 to bring in £15bn a year
- 500 youth ‘diverted from EDL protests’ in Bradford
- West Leeds: Cost-cutting plan means £2.5m police cell suite to lie empty
- £12.3m Leeds Kirkgate Market plan unveiled amid protest
- Leeds stag night Marine bit bouncer’s earlobe off
- West Yorkshire firefighters to strike again today
- South Yorkshire police slammed for failing to protect children from grooming
- Police hunt four men over racist attack
JUST’S Pick of the Week:
50 Year Anniversary of Malcolm X’s Message to the Grassroots Speech (10/11/1963)
Last Sunday, the 10th of November 2013, saw the 50th Anniversary of Malcolm X’s iconic political speech, his Message to the Grassroots. This week’s pick also includes this article from Ajezeera America which reflects on his legacy and looks at how diversely his messages are understood today – Revisiting Malcolm.
Freedom of Speech and Power
Freedom of expression and power…
Freedom of expression is enshrined in pretty much every important human rights document. That should make us ask a number of questions. What do we mean by freedom of expression and why does it matter so much? What are the threats to it, and what do we need to do to protect it? These questions are not really separate – they’re linked together because they have an underlying theme: freedom of speech is about power. It’s about finding a way to redress the imbalances in power that exist in our world. It’s about holding the powerful to account – and doing what can be done to prevent the powerful from using that power to their own ends, and to the detriment of the less powerful. The primary threats to freedom of speech come from those trying to hold onto their power – and to prevent those who are less powerful from finding ways to be more powerful.
Freedom of expression, the press and the UK government…
Investigative journalism at its best challenges this – as Watergate bore out so dramatically. That’s where the Guardian’s publishing of the information leaked by Edward Snowden comes in. It’s the epitome of ‘old style’ freedom of expression: finding out where governments have been overstepping their authority, misleading the public, becoming more controlling and authoritarian – and then making this known. The Guardian has shaken the most powerful institution on the planet – the US government – and opened up a huge debate that needed to be opened up.
The way that the UK government – and David Cameron in particular – has threatened the Guardian over these stories should be taken very seriously. Grant Shapps’ recent attacks on the BBC are part of the same agenda: trying to stifle expression and to use their power to control the agenda. Anyone who supports the idea of freedom of speech, or who understand that idea in anything more than a perfunctory and selfish way, should be defending and supporting the Guardian in particular to the hilt. The lack of that support seems to me to be indicative of a failure in the UK to really grasp the point of freedom of expression – and its importance.
Though I am distinctly ambivalent about the Royal Charter for press regulation, and see that many of those fighting against it are doing so for purely selfish reasons, without any feeling for or real belief in freedom of expression (witness the supine role of so much of Fleet Street over the attacks on the Guardian) it is entirely right to be concerned about any direct governmental role in regulating the press. Whether the Royal Charter really represents this is a matter of debate – and appropriate passion.
Freedom of expression and surveillance…
The surveillance, as its advocates pronounce, may be ostensibly to protect national security, to fight terrorists and track down paedophiles, in practice as the many abuses of RIPA in the past has shown, it ends up being used for much more pragmatic and sinister purposes. Internet surveillance has two direct impacts on freedom of expression. Where covert, it allows those with opinions (or those seeking out opinions) that are deemed ‘unacceptable’ to be tracked down and silenced. Where overt, it chills speech, and scares people into submission. Headlines like that in the BBC earlier this year ‘Whitehall chiefs scan Twitter to head off badger protests’ make the point: ‘don’t even think about tweeting about your protests, we’ll find you and stop you’.
That is another reason that the Guardian’s leaking of the Snowden stories are particularly significant if you’re an advocate of freedom of expression. Internet surveillance may be the biggest threat to freedom of expression of all – because the internet is where the biggest opportunities for freedom of expression now exist.
Freedom of expression and the internet…
Over the past decade or so, the internet has provided more and greater opportunities for freedom of expression than anyone could have imagined. The ability to blog and tweet gives a voice to millions who would otherwise not have had any opportunity to speak. It allows people to find information that they would otherwise have had no chance to find. It allows a sharing of views, a level of criticism and analysis that is wonderful for many, many people – but is deeply threatening to some of those in power.
That’s why there are so many moves to try to control and corral the internet – and why those moves should be resisted very carefully. The ongoing suggestions to build ‘default-on’ porn-filters is part of this – not only will the filters actually filter out far more than porn (indeed, one of my own blogs discussing porn filters was automatically porn blocked!) but they establish the idea that filtering and censorship is not just acceptable but actually something good and worth promoting. The powerful want to control the internet. They want to retain their power – and that, in practice, means restricting freedom of speech.
Whenever we see freedom of speech under attack, we need to think very carefully about it. Not just the specific attack, or the specific opinion being attacked, but the part that it plays in the bigger picture. The rise of the internet should mean that we are in a golden age of free speech – but for many reasons, we’re not. We should be feeling empowered and emboldened to take on the powerful and make the world a better, more liberated, more enlightened place. We’re in danger of making it exactly the opposite.
Lecturer UEA Law School