ICE blogs

April 18, 2012

When freedom of speech is perverse

Filed under: Uncategorized, Blogroll, News, ethical space editors blog, Headlines, journalism — news_editor @ 10:00 am

Media law expert Barry Turner argues that the trial of the mass murderer in Norway shows ‘freedom of speech gone mad’

The British press unsurprisingly gave a good deal of attention this week to the trial of the Norwegian mass murderer Anders Breivik. Some newspapers carried features on the Norwegian criminal justice system ranging from coverage of the five star hotel prisons to the ‘tradition’ of allowing defendants their say in court. Some of this coverage appeared in the form of a panegyric praising Norway for its humanistic approach describing ‘meeting hatred with love’ and rejecting retribution.

Retribution may be anachronistic and as the Norwegians might say will not help - but giving Breivik a say is freedom of speech gone mad.

Breivik opened his statement with a preposterous denouncing of the courts. Refusal to recognise the authority of courts has frequently been an expression of megalomania and delusion and a precursor to grandstanding. Breivik has made it clear from the outset that he intends to use the court as a platform for expressing his perverse beliefs.

While the British press have expressed some degree of anxiety that inevitably Breivik will cause great distress to the survivors and relatives of his victims there is still an expression of admiration for the Norwegian humanist criminal justice system. It is an admiration that is misplaced.

Freedom of speech is, and always has been a qualified right, indeed unbridled freedom of speech is a violation of human rights not an upholding of them. When Orwell defined freedom of expression as the right to be told things we did not want to hear he was talking of the responsibility to listen to unpleasant facts that in the public interest we need to discuss. Breivik’s pronouncements and behaviour in court do not fall into that category; neither does this latitude to have his say form part of any legitimate defence.

Breivik murdered 77 people to satisfy his own personal and perverse fantasies. The murder of innocent people including children is never justified even in the name of the most profound political belief. Breivik as a mass murder killed for pleasure not ideology. By giving him the opportunity to spout his vicious prejudices we are not acting in anyone’s interest but his.

We do not need to have Breivik’s fantasies played out in front of us especially since his killing spree could be an inspiration to others with his racist world view. Our newspapers should act with restraint and yes, even censor the opinions of a psychopathic mass murderer, not give them a platform for disseminating hatred.

Freedom of expression is a precious thing and must be protected even against its own expansion. Breivik has written a 1,500 page ‘manifesto’ of his disgusting self indulgent fantasies. He will no doubt use the enormous latitude of the Norwegian legal system to preach this hatred for many days to come. Our media must not give him a voice, nothing he has to say has any value in any concept of freedom of expression and we are not better informed for listening to his justification for an appalling act of savagery.

Barry Turner teaches media law at the University of Lincoln

April 1, 2012

Role of the web in promoting hate

Dusan Babic, a Sarajevo-based media researcher and analyst, reports on a major conference tackling hate-speech in South Eastern Europe

The role of the internet in promoting hate speech in South Eastern Europe was the subject of a conference in Sarajevo in November 2011. The event was jointly organised by the Council of Europe, the Press Council in Bosnia-Herzegovina, a self-regulatory body for print and online media, and the Association of B-H Journalists (BH Novinari).

The conference, titled Living Together, was an outcome of a Council of Europe project launched in 2009, and produced a handbook on standards on the media’s contribution to social cohesion, intercultural dialogue, understanding, tolerance and democratic participation.

Although the conference covered a wide range of issues - such as the European legal framework, national regulation and practice and the role of self-regulation in combating hate speech - the prevailing opinion among the conference participants was that the internet was to blame for spreading hate speech.

In 2010, I conducted a survey and analysis of the most-popular web portals in three central states of the former Yugoslavia - Serbia, Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina - commissioned by Sarajevo-based Media Plan Institute. I concluded that there were glaring examples of hate speech (largely a legacy of the wars of the 1990s) but they had not yet become a ‘mass phenomenon’ (see The internet: Freedom without boundaries?, Media Plan Institute, Sarajevo, 2010).

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