UK Liberty

Irony alert: outraged bloggers give BNP free publicity

Posted in freedom of speech, politicians on liberty by ukliberty on May 28, 2008

Some people seem upset that a Richard Barnbrook (one of the BNPs tiny number of elected representatives) has signed up, along with some 20,000 other users, to My Telegraph, and created a blog there, just like hundreds if not thousands of other users.

An interesting discussion about freedom of speech could have been had… but wasn’t. However, the furore has highlighted some interesting issues.

But first, some people seem to be labouring under the misapprehension that the Telegraph solicited Barnbrook’s views or was otherwise proactive about seeking them – so far as I can see there is no evidence of that. No more so than any other member of the public, that is.

Jim Jay wrote,

I don’t know who I’m more annoyed with Barnbrook or the Telegraph for giving him a platform from which to organise his right wing paramilitary coup.

Similarly, Jess McCabe wrote,

Telegraph gives the BNP blogs

And Sunny,

Telegraph gives the fascists a platform

The Telegraph didn’t ‘give’ Barnbrook, the BNP, fascists, or anyone else specifically a platform: My Telegraph is a platform (like WordPress) available to any member of the public provided he agrees to its terms and conditions.

Sunny pointed out that,

There is a difference between what is legally and democratically allowed and tolerated, and what should be actively promoted.

Agreed as a standalone comment.

But in context this implies that the Telegraph is actively promoting Barnbrook’s blog. So far as I can see that is not the case – indeed the only people talking about it are outraged bloggers and cooler heads!

Ok, so what is the freedom of speech issue? Well, should Barnbrook be permitted to have a blog on My Telegraph in the first place?

The newspaper yesterday defended its decision to host the blog and said it has had no complaints. A spokeswoman said: “Our readers are entitled to their opinions and, within the law, they’re entitled to publish them on the My Telegraph blogging platform. We believe our readers are intelligent and discerning enough to avoid the content they dislike and report that which offends. That doesn’t mean the Telegraph necessarily endorses their opinions nor promotes them.” (Media Guardian)

Seems pretty reasonable doesn’t it?

Indeed going further than that, in terms of proactively moderating articles and comments (User Generated Content), may put the host in a legally vulnerable position:

a dilemma ensues because ‘publication risk’ is least likely when using the pre-moderation model, and yet, this is the one which will be most detrimental to his defence in the event that some libelous material escapes his watchful eye, for he can no longer claim to be a mere distributor.

Indeed the would-be censor may be taken to implicitly approve of content that he allows to be published.

This further relates to freedom of speech in terms of a “chilling effect” (will the host/poster be scared to publish/write something for fear of complaints, bad press and legal encounters) as well as legal restrictions.


Gerry Gable, veteran editor of the magazine Searchlight said that most of what Barnbrook says is ‘offensive dribble’.

I certainly agree that it’s dribble, it’s too much like parody to be truly offensive. I think a Woodrow Wilson quote is particularly apposite here:

I have always been among those who believed that the greatest freedom of speech was the greatest safety, because if a man is a fool, the best thing to do is to encourage him to advertise the fact by speaking.

Gable added:

“And to those that talk about freedom of speech I would say freedom of speech has its limitations in a democracy.

Which is absolutely true, there are lots, some of which you may agree with, some of which you may not.

Then he goes and ruins it all by saying,

Try speaking about freedom of speech to the families of murdered (Black teenagers) Stephen Lawrence or Anthony Walker in Liverpool and the white families involved in interracial disputes.”

I don’t see how freedom of speech enters into those tragedies. Freedom of speech wasn’t in question when Lawrence was stabbed or when Walker was axed by racists. No one of sound mind thinks freedom of speech permits racists to beat up and murder people.

What I find offensive is the idea that – barring certain considerations, principally relating to harm – freedom of speech is only for those who you don’t find offensive. That seems to be the underlying current here – “Barnbrook must not be permitted to speak because he is offensive”. That’s not good, and it cuts both ways – if Barnbrook finds you offensive, would you shut up? Of course not. The world would be a very quiet place if we all held to that.

Shane Richmond at the Telegraph, incidentally, responded to the Guardian article with:

Jews who support Israel are “false Jews”, Condoleezza Rice is an “Aunt Jemima on the Bush plantation” and Robert Mugabe’s regime in Zimbabwe is no worse than that of Ian Smith. These are just some of the views that can be found on the Guardian’s Comment Is Free website.

Then he makes some interesting claims about Guardian moderation policy, quotes some offensive comments made on the Guardian’s CIF, and concludes with something I find reasonable:

Are those the views of the Guardian? I doubt it but then they didn’t remove them so, given their criticism of us, what else can we assume?

Well, how about we take the view that when you have an open platform, whether it’s My Telegraph, Comment Is Free, or the internet itself, then you have to accept that a multiplicity of views will be expressed on it and that some of those views will be unpalatable to some people.

But, has anyone made a complaint alleging specific T&C violations*?

Telegraph says no.

Well done everyone concerned!

* not just that Barnbrook is a member of the BNP and not a very good writer to boot

3 Responses

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  1. Sunny said, on May 29, 2008 at 12:31 am

    Let’s assume I complained to the Telgraph that the content is offensive. You’re in the editiorial dept who has to make the decision. What decision would you make?

  2. ukliberty said, on May 29, 2008 at 10:33 am

    I’d respond with something along the lines of:

    “I’m sorry you found the content offensive. We take complaints seriously, but I wondered if you would mind being more specific about what in particular you find offensive?”

  3. […] Comments Article in the Register on BBC parrots identity cards fluffukliberty on Irony alert: outraged bloggers give BNP free publicitySunny on Irony alert: outraged bloggers give BNP free publicityWatching Them, Watching Us on […]

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