UK Liberty

Free speech not only threatened by governments

Posted in freedom of speech by ukliberty on February 9, 2009

… but also people and organisations.

Recent example: LBC vs. Ben Goldacre.

LBC have instructed their lawyers to contact me.

Two days ago I posted about a 7th Jan 2009 broadcast in which their presenter Jeni Barnett exemplified some of the most irresponsible, ill-informed, and ignorant anti-vaccination campaigning that I have ever heard on the public airwaves. This is important because it can cost lives, and you can read about the media’s MMR hoax here.

To illustrate my grave concerns, I posted therelevant segment about MMR from her show, 44 minutes, which a reader kindly excerpted for me from the rest of the three hour programme. It is my view that Jeni Barnett torpedoes her reputation in that audio excerpt so effectively that little explanation is needed.

LBC’s lawyers say that the clip I posted is a clear infringement of their copyright, that I must take it down immediately, that I must inform them when I have done so, and that they “reserve their rights”. …

Please contact Ben if you are a media lawyer and able to offer your services for free.

It seems wrong that a person may broadcast dangerous nonsense but her employer is free to chill criticism of it.

(also see NHS Blog Doc and this interesting opinion.)

Interesting by the way that the comments about this on her blog have disappeared.  But someone has saved them


Story hits the Times – David Aaronovitch:

Goldacre was so annoyed about the January 7 edition of Barnett’s show, dealing, among other things, with MMR and vaccination, that he posted the whole of it as a clip on his own website, where it acted as a sort of audio chamber of horrors to appal his readers. A few days later the lawyers for LBC contacted Goldacre and told him that he was infringing their copyright and must remove the clip forthwith, or else.

Goldacre was now anger squared. “This is not about LBC or Jeni Barnett,” he wrote. “This is about one perfect, instructive, illustrative example of a whole genre of irresponsible journalism that drove the media’s anti-vaccine campaign for ten solid years, with serious consequences for public health.”

Update 2

More from Ben Goldacre.

I thought since a few days have passed that I should let you know what’s happening with the slightly ridiculous LBC situation. If you skip to the bottom you will find a discussion on some mischievous activism which I think has great potential. 

Since LBC unwisely threw their legal weight around to prevent you from being able to freely experience and ponder that astonishing 44 minute tirade against MMR, the inevitable has happened. The audio has been posted on a huge number of websites around the world, over 120 blogs so far are linking to the story, and more importantly, hundreds of thousands of people are talking and reading about the ignorance that Jeni Barnett exemplified in that worrying broadcast. It has been covered in the Times, and an Early Day Motion is being set down in parliament. …

Disturbing video about Climate Camp

Posted in freedom of assembly, freedom of speech, surveillance society by ukliberty on January 26, 2009


In August 2008, environmental protestors set up camp in Kent, England, to protest the current and newly proposed E-On coal-fired power stations at Kingsnorth.

Part One of two films, Covering Climate Camp documents not the protest movement, but the journalists trying to cover the story for independent and mainstream news organisations.

In some of the worst scenes of police interference the press were subjected to stop-and-search, harassment, aggression and violence, which led to the National Union of Journalists and the industry media publically slamming the police on the grounds of press freedom restriction.

Part Two of two films, Covering Climate Camp continues to document the press coverage and subsequent press freedom restrictions. As the policing gets heavier, journalists trying to cover the story for independent and mainstream news organisations face surveillance, harassment, endless stop-and-searches and assault – they are even followed by a police unit to a McDonald’s restaurant.

Paul Dacre laughable

Posted in freedom of speech by ukliberty on November 12, 2008

I can’t add anything substantive to HeadofLegal’s opinion on Paul Dacre’s recent comments on the ‘threats’ to the press:

… this outburst is laughably excessive, self-serving and misleading. It is not just nonsense, but binged-up intoxicated happy-hour nonsense in the way it lashes out angrily at someone just doing his job.

David Osler pointed out that,

however ‘perverted’ and ‘depraved’ our self-styled defender of decency and civilised behaviour considered Mosley’s conduct to be, that didn’t stop him running a series of circulation-boosting salacious front covers, accompanied by two double page spreads inside and some angry opinion pieces to boot.

I would add that what Eady rightly said is that there is a difference between ‘the public interest’ and ‘something the public is interested in’. He dealt with all of Dacre’s complaints in the Mosley judgement (Mosley v News Group Newspapers Ltd), ahead of time. And, as HeadofLegal pointed out, the judgment is actually quite friendly to the media.

What Dacre is really annoyed about (although it does seem like faux outrage) is that the press does not have an absolute right to spy on people in private and report on their consensual activities, particularly if they fictionalise aspects of the event post hoc in order to prop up a public interest defence (the ‘Nazi’ bit and allegations of assault) should there be legal action!

It is perhaps also worth noting that the journalist who exposed Mosley attempted to blackmail two of the women involved. It is interesting that Paul Dacre, who believe it is “the duty of the media to take an ethical stand”, is so supportive of a newspaper that employs liars and blackmailers.

A commenter on the Guardian version of Paul Dacre’s speech made an incisive point:

Have I misunderstood something, or isn’t this whole speech just a “truthy” attack (qv. Colbert) on an individual judge that Paul Dacre doesn’t like very much, because that judge persists in putting the rights of individual people to do what they like in private above the rights of some shitrag to splash it all over their front page in order to raise their sales, then cover their moral arses with lots of ultra-hypocritical tutting, preening and moralising?


Posted in freedom of speech, politicians on liberty, surveillance society by ukliberty on November 10, 2008

Pin the tail on the scapegoat

Blears in the Guardian:

… I would single out the rise of the commentariat as especially note-worthy. It is within living memory that journalists’ names started to appear in newspapers; before then, no name was attached to articles. And in recent years commentary has taken over from investigation or news reporting, to the point where commentators are viewed by some as every bit as important as elected politicians, with views as valid as cabinet ministers.

A clear implication that elected politicians are more important than commentators (or any other member of the public?), that the views of cabinet ministers are somehow more valid…

They are not better qualified.  They are not more competent.  They may have better access to information.  They are motivated by political expediency as much if not more so than genuine altruism.  It seems rare that they are motivated by evidence-based rationales.

And if you can wield influence and even power, without ever standing for office or being held to account by an electorate, it further undermines our democracy.

The commentariat operates without scrutiny or redress. They cannot be held to account for their views, even when they perform the most athletic and acrobatic of flip-flops in the space of a few weeks. I can understand when commentators disagree with each other; it’s when they disagree with themselves we should worry.

All that seems rather arguable.  It seems to me that blogs and newspapers are rather more ‘democratic’ in the sense that I choose what blogs to read or newspapers to buy – whenever I choose.  Neither my time nor money goes to those who don’t appeal.

Contrast with our first-past-the-post parliamentary system.  Every five years, unless someone dies or a general election is called early, I have the opportunity to toddle off down to the local polling booth and tick the box next to the name of a (probably unappealing) candidate.  The winning candidate receives my money even if I haven’t voted for him.  He wins no matter how few people turn out to vote, so long as he gets at least one more vote than his opponents. He is MP for five years no matter how many of his constituents get fed up with him.

(It is also worth pointing out that the Government is seriously suggesting taxpayers must contribute to party coffers, because the Labour party (well, not just them) is haemorrhaging party members and donors and can’t seem to live within its means or avoid narrowing its appeal.)

If he becomes a Minister, he might get involved in some sort of lie or scandal.  If we’re lucky, he might – just might resign.  But then he might come back… and get involved in another lie or scandal.  And he might resign again.  If we’re lucky.

The party that forms our current Government was voted for by only one in five of the public.

This is accountability?

There will always be a role for political commentary, providing perspective, illumination and explanation. But editors need to do more to disentangle it from news reporting, and to allow elected politicians the same kind of prominent space for comment as people who have never stood for office.

Editors should be free to give whatever space they wish to whomever they wish – newspapers are private businesses.  If politicians want to express their views they are free to start their own blogs or newspapers.  In fact why don’t they?

Their success (or lack of it) will provide a measure of the esteem in which they are held.

This brings me to the role of political bloggers. Perhaps because of the nature of the technology, there is a tendency for political blogs to have a Samizdat style. The most popular blogs are rightwing, ranging from the considered Tory views of Iain Dale, to the vicious nihilism of Guido Fawkes.

This point is skewered by MatGB at Liberal Conspiracy.

Perhaps this is simply anti-establishment. Blogs have only existed under a Labour government. Perhaps if there was a Tory government, all the leading blogs would be left-of-centre?

There are some informative and entertaining political blogs, including those written by elected councillors. But mostly, political blogs are written by people with a disdain for the political system and politicians, who see their function as unearthing scandals, conspiracies and perceived hypocrisy.

Unless and until political blogging adds value to our political culture, by allowing new and disparate voices,

Um, nothing except for legal restrictions on freedom of speech prohibits anyone with Internet access and a modicum of intelligence from starting a blog.

ideas and legitimate protest and challenge, and until the mainstream media reports politics in a calmer, more responsible manner, it will continue to fuel a culture of cynicism and despair.

Has Blears considered the root cause of this alleged culture of cynicism and despair? Because it isn’t bloggers or the commentariat or any of the media – while those are factors, it’s the politicians who betray our trust who are at fault.  

The running theme I sense from Labour speeches relating to disengagement is that “it wasn’t me.”  

Their fingers are pointed in the wrong direction.