Freedom of speech

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Chinese-Australian journalist Cheng Lei formally arrested for alleged spying in China

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 12/02/2021 - 5:39pm in

Tensions between Australia and China continue to intensify


Screenshot from ABC TV 7.30 video: Cheng Lei's family speaks out for the first time since her detention in China on February 9, 2021

Australian journalist and television presenter Cheng Lei has been formally arrested and accused of unlawfully supplying or intending to supply state secrets or intelligence overseas, according to Chinese authorities.

Cheng, who was the anchor for a business program on state television’s China Global Television Network (CGTN), was detained in August 2020. The Chinese government was called out at the time for so-called “hostage diplomacy.”

Members of her family spoke out on the ABC (Australia) 7.30 current affairs program.

Journalists working in China for foreign media have faced numerous difficulties recently. Australian journalist Bill Birtles, the 7.30 reporter for this story, was the ABC Beijing correspondent before making a rushed exit home in September 2020. He explained some of the background during the 7.30 segment:

Cheng Lei was taken away six weeks after ASIO [Australian security] raided the homes of four Chinese state media journalists in Sydney.

The anti-foreign interference investigation prompted Beijing to target Australian journalists in China but it's not clear if Cheng's arrest is related to the tense diplomatic relationship, because four months after she was taken away, her close friend, Haze Fan, a Chinese journalist working for American media, was also detained on national security grounds.

There is a much broader context of tensions between Australia and China involving trade, security and diplomacy.

Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne has dismissed claims by China that Australia is trying to interfere in their judicial system. Payne responded that Cheng Lei “deserves the basic standards of justice, procedural fairness and human treatment to be met in accordance with international norms.”

Another prominent case involves the continuing detention by Chinese authorities of writer and popular online commentator, Chinese-Australian Yang Hengjun, since January 2019. The latest news concerning Cheng Lei has been greeted online in Australia with anger and frustration. Laoch’s tweet captured the growing reaction “Down Under” against the Chinese Communist Party:

Brisbane Twitter user Bob Bruce raised the possibility that Cheng Lei may have been involved in breaches of Chinese national security:

Paul Barrett, former Secretary of Australian Departments of Defence and Primary Industries & Energy, drew parallels with the way that imprisoned Aussie journalist, Julian Assange, has been treated by his government:

Australian journalist Peter Greste, who spent 440 days in jail in Egypt, has continued his strong support for Cheng Lei. In a statement for the Alliance for Journalists’ Freedom, he is quoted as saying that:

…Chinese authorities have had ample time to gather evidence, and unless they are willing to show it, they should release Cheng immediately.

China’s record on press freedom is already deeply troubling. In the absence of evidence, Cheng’s arrest only adds to the impression that Beijing does not care about the freedom of the press. Her case stands as a clear warning to other journalists to support the government or risk being imprisoned too.

Several news stories were posted to Reddit, where there was lively discussion.

Defamedprawn raised an issue that many others agreed with:

I don't mean to be harsh, but the lady is an anchor [for] CGTN, which is very much an arm of the regime. For instance, they're notorious for televising forced confessions and pretending they're interviews.

So should I feel sympathy for this person?

Catalyst1945 showed cynicism about whether the Australian government would take any real action:

Can’t wait for our spineless prime minister to do nothing.

Given the nature of Chinese trials, it is possible that we may never know what motivated her detention:

Meanwhile, Australia faces claims of hypocrisy over lack of judicial transparency. Ann raised the contentious issue of its own secret trials:

Chinese-Australian cartoonist Badiucao walks a fine line to avoid being politically hijacked


Image by Chinese-Australian cartoonist Badiucao alluding to the fact that several companies, including Muji, are believed to purchase cotton harvested by ethnic Uyghur prisoners in Xinjiang. Image used with permission.

Being in the middle of two countries currently engaged in one of their worst rows in years is a difficult space to navigate, even more so if one is an outspoken visual artist. This is precisely the case of Badiucao, a Chinese-Australian cartoonist known for his stand on human rights, freedom of expression and fight against racism who, even while being targeted by Beijing supporters, finds himself increasingly isolated and alienated by all sides in Australia.

Born in mainland China, Badiucao sought political asylum in Australia where he is now a citizen. His art seeks to act as a voice of reason, denounce political instrumentalization and support human rights globally.

A turning point in bilateral relations between Australia and China came in 2020, significantly worsened by a series of economic, political and ideological disputes that still remain unsolved. Until last year, both countries enjoyed an economic honeymoon: in 2014, Canberra and Beijing announced their relationship to be a “comprehensive strategic partnership”. By the time they reached the peak of their economic integration in 2019, China had absorbed over a quarter of Australia's trade, and in that year alone, 1.4 million Chinese tourists had visited Australia.

By 2020, the partnership deteriorated as Australia raised serious concerns about issues of human rights and democracy in the context of the many Chinese-Australian citizens, Hong Kong and pro-Taiwan students that were targeted and sometimes attacked by pro-Beijing supporters in Australia. Beijing rejected the criticism and retaliated by imposing a series of bans on key Australian imports. The situation escalated towards the end of 2020 when China decided to stop purchasing key commodities, such as coal, from Australia — a ban that possibly caused power shortages for millions of Chinese.

In an interview by phone with Global Voices, Badiucao suggested that the diplomatic fall-out should not have come as a total surprise:

I think the problem has been present for a very long time, because it was never mutually beneficial. China sees Australia as a ground for infiltration, from education to politics to media. For such a long time, the Australian government was short-sighted about this relationship, it only saw the economic benefit, but [not] much beyond. 

The COVID-19 pandemic did not help matters. Many of the estimated 260,000 Chinese students who were in Australia in 2019 were prevented from returning, and Canberra accused Beijing of a lack of transparency in its management of the pandemic. The impasse has damaged both sides: society and government bodies have engaged in anti-China or anti-Australia movements, some of them violently racist.


Wine label designed by Badiucao calling for other countries to buy Australian wine after China banned its imports. Image used with permission.

To explain the crisis, Badiucao points to a fundamental difference in values and tolerance for criticism between the countries:

Australia has realized that this toxic relationship has to end and that basic values, such as freedom and democracy, can no longer be overlooked. Canberra wants to make clear [that] the relationship must be mutually beneficial, and that Beijing needs to know the difference in their value systems. However, China is not used to any kind of criticism of its government, and responds in an outrageous manner, particularly under Xi Jinping's strategy of wolf warrior diplomacy. 

The cartoonist believes the crisis is a healthy eye-opener not only for Australia, but for the rest of the world, when determining whether to depend economically on China:

I think that because of the geographic locations of China and Australia, we are the first country in the free world seeing the problems of this relationship. China is not willing to play by the rules like other democratic countries. I hope there could be an alliance against those bully threats China can project on countries like Australia, as in the case of the wine exports.

A narrow space for democracy

While this crisis might indeed be a wake-up call, Badiucao is finding it increasingly difficult to make his voice heard in Australia. While the right and far-right have a strong anti-CCP (Chinese Communist Party) line, that discourse, he explains, often includes elements of xenophobia and racism. Many on the left, meanwhile, are afraid to criticize China in the name of political correctness, lest they be accused of supporting racism.

Within Australia's Chinese communities, the narratives are even more complex and do not favour Badiucao. An estimated 1.2 million Chinese Australians (nearly six percent of the total population), come from very different geographies, as Badiucao decodes:

We often overlook the differences within the community: there are second or third generations; they don’t really know much about what is happening in mainland China, and they might have a sense of nostalgia more related to Jackie Chan movies. There are also recent Hong Kong immigrants who have a different understanding of their identity and political stand. But here is the bottom line: we have to tell the difference between people [and] government. The Chinese government does not represent the Chinese people. Unfortunately, some Chinese-Australians are brainwashed by platforms […] in Australia.

Badiucao thinks the Australian government is not doing enough to communicate this distinction between the Chinese government and being Chinese, and that it needs to invest in the Chinese-Australian community much more efficiently in order to counterbalance Beijing propaganda filtering through WeChat and TikTok. 

Cartoons for human rights

For Badiucao, the best way to spread the message of universal human rights is through his art. Political cartoons require no or little translation and can be immediately understood worldwide. Paradoxically, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a positive effect on his outreach. Offline art events have virtually stopped, but Badiucao has always relied on social media to share his art, which has worked to his advantage.

His cartoon transposing the iconic Beijing 1989 TankMan to the context of Trump's America shows how powerful his integration of global images can be:


Image of the 1989 Tiananmen Square iconic Tank Man transposed to the context of Trump's America, by Badiucao. Image used with permission.

Political satirical art may be global, but Badiucao warns against the manipulation around this form of freedom of expression that occurs in authoritarian countries like China. In November and December 2020, Wuhe Qilin (乌合麒麟 ), a satirical artist based in mainland China, released a series of photoshopped images pointing at an investigation conducted by Australia's own military, which found that the country's soldiers may have committed war crimes in Afghanistan.

Badiucao explains why one should be very careful when comparing the role and function of cartoon art in China and in democracies:

I wouldn't use the term ‘artist’ or ‘political cartoonist': the whole narrative [that] he is an independent artist who cares about human rights in Afghanistan is bogus. Here is a telling detail: the work he posted on November 23 on Weibo has no signature of the user ID and no time stamp, which is mandatory as per Weibo regulations. This could indicate Wuhe Qilin himself provided the original copy to the Chinese authorities. Besides, for a long time, he smeared Fang Fang, the author of the Wuhan Diary, [portraying her] as a villain hired by the CIA. He is not an independent artist, because there is no such thing as independence in China. If you don’t collaborate, you don’t have a shred of space to survive or you end up in prison. 

Baiduacao responded to Wuhe Qilin via a series of images showing a PLA (People's Liberation Army) soldier repeating the same gesture aimed at Uyghur, Tibetan and Hong Kong people, wondering whether China would allow Wuhe Qilin to be critical of his own country's violations of human rights:

A 17th Century Anglican Plea for Religious Toleration

Jeremy Taylor was the chaplain of King Charles I and the rector of Uppingham. After the royalists were defeated in the British Civil War, he fled to Carmarthenshire in Wales, where he wrote his book arguing for religious freedom, The Liberty of Prophesying. After the Restoration he was appointed bishop of Down and Connor. He was also the author of a number of devotional works and sermons, but it’s his defence of religious freedom that I find particularly interesting. He said ‘they were excellent words which St. Ambrose said in attestation of this great truth, that the civil authority has no right to interdict the liberty of speaking, nor the sacerdotal to prevent speaking what you think.’

See the article on him in John Bowker, ed., The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions (Oxford: OUP 1997) 958.

I’m very much aware that throughout Christian history there has been very little freedom of religion and conscience, and that the Anglican church’s toleration of Dissenters was very limited until the repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts in the 19th century. Until then Protestant nonconformists were excluded from the grammar schools, universities and government, and could only hold their services five miles away from towns. Atheism and Roman Catholicism were illegal again until the 19th century. But it was clergymen like Taylor and his fellows in the Nonconformist churches, like the Quaker William Penn and a number of Presbyterian ministers, who laid the foundations for the British and American tradition of religious tolerance. The most famous of the works calling for religious freedom from this period is Milton’s Areopagitica.

Despite the passage of the centuries, their message is still acutely relevant. Many countries still don’t have freedom of conscious or religious liberty in the 20th century. The Communists attempted to destroy religious and viciously persecuted people of faith, while the Nazis, apart from trying to exterminate the Jews, also sent their other religious opponents, especially Jehovah’s Witnesses, to the concentration camps.

We have recently seen a French teacher murdered for showing schoolchildren the Charlie Hebdo cartoons of Mohammed in a class about free speech, and mass demonstrations against France for permitting the cartoons in Muslim countries. To many people, their calls for legislation against such disrespect seem like demands for Muslim blasphemy laws. Christians and members of other religious minorities, such as Shia and Ahmadiyya Muslims have been murdered in Pakistan as well as orthodox Sunni Muslims because of supposed blasphemy. This is banned in Pakistan and punishable with the death penalty. The only permitted religion in Saudi Arabia is Wahhabi Islam, and a few years ago the Saudis declared that atheism was terrorism. This was just atheist unbelief itself, regardless of any act of genuine terror, such as killing people or destroying property.

I’m sympathetic to Muslims regarding the Charlie Hebdo cartoons. I don’t like the way Christianity and Christ are mocked by certain sections of the media and the entertainment business either. I’ve also heard the argument that Charlie Hebdo is a nasty rag. It’s not left-wing, but right, apparently, and its targets also include Roman Catholicism and immigrants.

But there’s a greater principle of free speech and the sanctity of human life here. All religions and ideologies, including atheism, should be up for debate, with people free to choose as they will. They’re fundamental human rights, the violation of which either leads or is part of tyranny.

Solomon Islands bans Facebook for ‘harmful content’

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 21/11/2020 - 4:16pm in

An official claims Facebook is merely being ‘suspended’ for an indefinite time


Students studying at a computer lab in University of South Pacific Solomon Islands Campus. Photo from Flickr account of the Asian Development Bank, (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

The Cabinet of Solomon Islands has issued a temporary ban on Facebook for what it considers ‘harmful content’ disseminated on the social media platform. It is unclear when the ban will begin and how long will this last.

The ban was proposed by Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare and Communication and Civil Aviation Minister Peter Shanel Agovaka.

Agovaka told Solomon Times why the Cabinet came up with this decision:

Abusive languages against Ministers, Prime Minister, character assassination, defamation of character, all these are issues of concerns.

The use of the internet now in Solomon Islands needs to be properly regulated to safeguard our young people from harmful content. At the moment there is no legislation to govern the use of the internet and even young kids can be able to download harmful stuff from the internet.

Agovaka said the government has not yet finalized the details with internet service providers about how the ban will be enforced. He added that press freedom will not be affected since citizens can still publish or air their sentiments on other media platforms.

There are 120,000 Facebook users in Solomon Islands.

The announcement garnered widespread criticism which prompted Permanent Secretary of Communication and Aviation Moses Virivolomo to clarify that Facebook is merely being suspended. But the official gave no timeline about the suspension.

The Facebook ban or suspension is seen by critics and the opposition as an attempt to silence citizens who are exposing irregularities in government.

Opposition Member of Parliament Peter Kenilorea Jnr reminded the Cabinet about the importance of upholding freedom of expression in a democracy:

As leaders, we will face resentment from factions of a demanding and at times dissatisfied public. Much of the dissatisfaction and mistrust, whether real or perceived, will be aired. Sometimes these need to be aired. After all, we, leaders, need to be held accountable by the electorate that place us in positions of power. We need to face the music from time to time. This is democracy.

But as leaders, let us not attack one of the main pillars of democracy upon which our nation rests – the freedom of expression. Let us not mute the voices, however angry, of those that we have sworn to serve.

Malaita Provincial Premier Daniel Suidani, a local official, also disagreed with the decision to ban Facebook:

Do not go into public life and make laws and decisions for your own good or for your own protection as is seen with the banning of Facebook.

Doing this will only lead to further frustrations. You can be guaranteed that going against your people only leads to failures.

The business sector is not supportive of the ban. Jay Bartlett, the board chairperson of the Solomon Islands Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SICCI), said the Cabinet should be focusing on other more important matters:

It is the Government’s prerogative to make such a decision, but as a Chamber we believe that there are other pressing issues that requires our collective focus.

Ms Gloria Hong, a member of SICCI representing small businesses, argued that Facebook is an essential platform to interact with consumers.

Using social media helps us to build brand awareness, increase our customer base, and connect with customers.

In my view, banning Facebook is a threat to businesses, especially the small businesses who cannot afford to run advertisements on radio, newspapers and on TV.

Tourism Solomons CEO Josefa ‘Jo’ Tuamoto warned about the repercussions for the tourism industry:

It goes without saying the platform has become vital in our efforts to keep the Solomon Islands top of mind and competitive on the world tourism stage for the time when things return to normal.

No other social media platform comes even close to what we have been achieving with Facebook.

And not just for our tourism sector, but for all Solomon Islands businesses and the wider community in general which uses Facebook as a key means of communication across our 992-island archipelago.

In a letter sent to the Solomon Times, Floyd Manata from Port Moresby said banning Facebook is not the solution:

We need to be very careful about dealing with certain things regarding this time where the world technology is changing every 6 months. Today it's Facebook next year probably TikTok. But hey think again is this the best solution to the problem?

Before you ban Facebook you should establish or come up with policies that will facilitate the issue of cyber crime and cyber security. Do we have one in place at the moment?

Facebook told ABC Australia that it is ready to discuss the issues raised by the Solomon Islands government:

We’re reaching out to the Solomon Islands government to discuss today’s decision.

This move will impact thousands of people in the Solomon Islands who use our services to connect and engage in important discussions across the Pacific.

Amnesty International’s Pacific Researcher Kate Schuetze said the ban will deprive users of vital information that can save lives during a pandemic.

Given how important it is for people to quickly access information in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, the government may not just place political discourse and participation at risk, but even lives. Total bans on websites or internet information providers will almost never be justifiable under international human rights law.

Dan McGarry, an independent journalist living in Vanuatu, has a proposal for Pacific governments which are unhappy over the social impact of Facebook and has considered plans to censor or ban the popular social media website:

Pacific governments need to start a dialogue, not just with social media giants, but with other national regulators too. They need to learn from others’ mistakes, and leverage others’ successes.

Legal Philosopher Successful in Defense Against Attack by Poland’s Ruling Party

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 06/11/2020 - 11:32pm in

Wojciech Sadurski, a legal scholar and philosopher of law with appointments at the University of Sydney and the University of Warsaw, has successfully withstood a defamation lawsuit by Poland’s ruling right-wing “Law and Justice” (PiS) party.


Selfie by Wojciech Sadurski, posted on Twitter, shortly before his appeals court hearing.

This morning he sent out the following message on Twitter:

Warsaw Court of Appeal has just dismissed an appeal by PiS (Law &Justice ruling party) in a defamation case against me. In a word, brothers and sisters, I’ve WON!!!!! And the judgment is final. What a feeling!

Here’s some background on the case, from The Guardian:

Sadurski’s case was initially sparked by controversy over the annual commemoration of Polish independence on 11 November, which has increasingly become dominated by extreme nationalists. The day before the 2018 event marking the centenary of the modern Polish state, where president Andrzej Duda awkwardly combined an official event with the march organised by the far right, Sadurski tweeted that “no honest person” should attend, and referred to Law and Justice (PiS in Polish) as “an organised criminal group” colluding with neo-Nazis… Two months later he also incurred the wrath of the country’s public broadcaster, TVP, following the assassination of the liberal mayor of Gdansk, Paweł Adamowicz. Sadurski accused governmental media on Twitter of hounding Adamowicz over his views, referring to “Goebbelsian” behaviour, but without naming TVP. Nevertheless, it took out both a civil and criminal suit for defamation, alleging his tweet amounted to a claim that it had incited the murder.

The post Legal Philosopher Successful in Defense Against Attack by Poland’s Ruling Party appeared first on Daily Nous.

Was Mussolini’s 1931 Policy on the Banking Crash Better than Britain’s 2008 Bail-Out?

Here’s another interesting question posed by the changing policies of the Italian Fascist state towards industry and the financial sector. Fascism celebrated and defended private industry as the essential basis of the Italian economy and society. When Mussolini first took power in the early 1920s, he declared that Fascism stood for ‘Manchester School’ capitalism – privatisation, cuts to public services and expenditure and the lowering of wages and welfare benefits. But this changed with the development of the Fascist state through the establishment of the corporations – industrial organisations combining the employers’ organisations and the trade unions, which were supposed to take over the management of industry – autarky, which aimed to make Italy self-sufficient and the movement to a centrally planned economy.

This was partly achieved in the early 1930s when Mussolini set up two state institutions to buy out the Italian banks following the Wall Street crash of 1929 and the ensuing depression. These not only bought out the banks, but also the industries these banks owned and controlled, so that the Italian state ended up owning just under a fifth of the Italian economy.

This is described in a passage in the article ‘Industry’ in Philip V. Cannistraro’s Historical Dictionary of Fascist Italy (Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press 1982). This runs

Two public agencies were created to save banks and crucially affected industries: the Istituto Mobiliare Italiano (IMI) on November 13, 1931, which was to control credit; and the Istituto per la Ricostruzione Industriale (IRI) on January 23, 1933. IRI was by far the more radical solution, for it purchased all the shares of stock in industrial, agricultural, and real estate companies previously held by banks. (The banking law of 1936 prohibited banks from extending long-term credit to industrial concerns). Although the industrialists fully expected a return to “normalcy” and to private enterprise after the crisis had passed, Mussolini had successfully created an instrument for the permanent intervention of government in the economy. By 1939 IRI controlled a series of firms representing 44.15 percent of the capital of Italian stock values and 17.80 percent of the total capital of the country – hence, the Fascist government controlled a proportionately larger section of national industry than any other government in Europe except the Soviet Union. (p. 278).

This allowed the government to interfere and restructure the Italian economy leading to the expansion of the manufacturing economy and a reduction in imports. On the other hand, poor government planning and an inefficient bureaucracy meant that Italian domestic manufactures were frequently inferior and the country had a lower growth rate than many other western European countries.

But this contrasts very strongly with policy of Britain and America to the financial sector after the 2008. The banks were bailed out with public money, but were not nationalised and the government has continued with its ‘light touch’ approach to regulation. Meaning that the banks have been free to carry on pretty much as before. Public spending, especially on welfare, has been drastically cut. Despite the Tories claiming that this would boost the economy and they’d pay of the debt within a couple of years or so, this has very definitely not happened. In fact, the debt has massively increased.

This has added to the long term problems of Britain’s manufacturing industry. Left-wing economists have pointed out that Britain’s domestic industries suffer from a lack of capital because the financial sector is geared towards overseas investment. A situation that has no doubt got worse due to globalisation and the personal investment of many Tory and New Labour MPs in foreign industry and their savings in offshore tax havens. British industry has also suffered from the ignorance and neglect of successive prime ministers from Maggie Thatcher onwards. Thatcher couldn’t understand that her policy of keeping the Pound strong would damage British exports, and in any case did not want to rescue failing British industries. They were either to be allowed to go under, or else sold to foreign companies and governments. Tony Blair went further, and believed that manufacturing industry’s place in the British economy could be successfully taken over by the financial sector and the service industries.

But this has also been a failure. Ha-Joon Chang in his 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism has pointed out that manufacturing industry is still very much of vital importance. It’s just that it has grown at a slower rate than the other sectors.

Fascist Italy was a totalitarian dictatorship where Mussolini ruled by fear and violence. There was no freedom of speech or conscience in a system that aimed at the total subordination of the individual, economy and society. Mussolini collaborated with Hitler in the persecution of the Jews, although mercifully this wasn’t quite so extreme so that 80 per cent of Italian Jews survived. The regime was aggressively militaristic aiming at the restoration of a new, Roman-style empire in the Mediterranean. Albania, Greece and Ethiopia were invaded along with Tripoli in Libya and Fascist forces were responsible for horrific atrocities as well as the passage of race laws forbidding racial intermixture with Black Africans.

It was a grotesque, murderous regime which was properly brought to an end by the Allied victory of the Second World War. It must never be revived and Fascism must be fought every where. But it does appear that Mussolini’s policy towards the banks and industry was better than that pursued by our supposedly liberal democracies. But the governments of our own time are also becoming increasingly intolerant and authoritarian. The danger of our country becoming similar repressive dictatorship under Boris and the Tories is very real.

We desperately need the return to power of a genuinely socialist Labour government, committed to investment in the welfare state and public services with a nationalised NHS, a mixed economy and positive commitment to democracy and freedom of speech rather than the illusion maintained by the mainstream media and Tory press.

And that will mean overturning over three decades of Thatcherite orthodoxy on the banks and financial sector, just as Mussolini changed his policies towards them with the aim of restoring and expanding Italian industry.

Speech, Harm, and Mill

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 02/10/2020 - 11:08pm in

I think the current debates about free speech are a good thing, because for far too long there has been much less debate about free speech than a free speech regime urges us to have about everything else.

That’s Frederick Schauer, professor of law at the University of Virginia, in a recent interview with Richard Marshall at 3:16 AM. Near the beginning of the interview, the two discuss John Stuart Mill’s arguments about freedom of speech and thought in On Liberty.


[Kay Rosen, “Better Days”]

Professor Schauer first describes what he takes to be the typical interpretation of Mill’s arguments:

The most common reading of On Liberty takes Chapter 2 as an instantiation of Chapter 1. That is, in Chapter 1, Mill, famously, argues that it is illegitimate for the state to restrict personal conduct except to prevent harm to others. Preventing harmless immoralities, or preventing harmful conduct harming only the actor, are, Mill argues, beyond the state’s proper powers. And so when in Chapter 2 Mill argues for the “liberty of thought and discussion,” it seems straightforward to take thinking and discussing as coming within the Chapter 1 argument and thus as harmless. And this reading is reinforced by the childhood adage “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me,” by the common civil libertarian acceptance of the harmlessness of speech, and by the frequency with which arguments from harmlessness are conjoined with distinct arguments from free speech, as is especially common (and often justified) in the case of arguments against restricting certain forms of sexually explicit speech whose only regulable attribute is its challenge to a certain form of moral sensibility about sexuality.

Professor Schauer thinks there’s a better interpretation available:

In contrast to the conventional reading I have just described, I think a better reading (whether it was Mill’s intended reading I will leave to others to decide) is that Chapter 2 is an argument not for protecting thought and discussion because they are harmless, but despite the harm they may cause. Thus, when Mill argues for the epistemic advantages of a regime of liberty of thought and discussion, I read him—or reread him—as saying that protecting even harmful thought and discussion is necessary to secure the epistemic advantages of a free speech regime, or to secure the advantages of intellectual character that come from requiring people to confront what they think false, and thus to understand why what they think false is actually false. And thus the conventional reading, which takes freedom of speech to be protected because of speech’s harmlessness, cannot explain (or justify) the protection of harmful speech, and thus offers a defense only of a weak and very limited free speech principle. My preferred reading explains and justifies a more robust free speech principle, although the question then remains whether such a robust principle is a good thing.

I think the current debates about free speech are a good thing, because for far too long there has been much less debate about free speech than a free speech regime urges us to have about everything else…

With respect to pornography, many of these debates have been frustrating because of confusions about labels. Traditionally, those who would restrict sexually explicit depictions have objected to the sexual explicitness, and have defined “pornography,” and the legal term “obscenity,” in terms of sexual explicitness. But although most sexually explicit literature until recently was distressingly celebratory of sexual violence and sexual coercion, there is nothing about sexual explicitness itself that needs to include such themes. Conversely, there is nothing about the verbal or pictorial endorsement of sexual violence, coercion, and exploitation that requires explicitness. So if we take Mill as arguing only for the protection of harmless speech, he turns out to have little to say about the regulation of speech that encourages or endorses or tolerates sexual violence, at least if we accept—and this is an empirical social science question and not a purely conceptual one—that widespread endorsements of sexual violence have a probabilistically causal relationship to the societal level of sexual violence. But if we take Chapter 2 as arguing for the desirability of protecting false views—the view that women who say “no” mean “yes,” to take one of the most notorious examples—then Mill provides support for the existing American legal and constitutional view, although, again, it is hardly clear that that that view should be accepted.

Much the same applies to many of the parallel debates on university campuses, many of which are focused on various forms of so-called hate speech, including race-based insults, vilification, and denigration. Again, there are important debates to be had about whether such speech ought to be protected in general, or ought to be especially protected (or especially unprotected) in university environments. But such debates will remain shallow as long as proponents of restriction insist that everything that is harmful ought to be restricted while opponents insist with equal vigor that the speech is harmless. Only by accepting that some of such speech is genuinely harmful can we have a fruitful discussion of when (if ever) and why harmful speech ought to be restricted, and when (if ever) and why harmful speech ought to be protected or tolerated.

You can read the whole interview here.

The post Speech, Harm, and Mill appeared first on Daily Nous.

How Does the Ban on Teaching Anti-Capitalist and Extremist Materials Affect Mainstream Textbooks?

Yesterday, Gavin Williamson, the secretary of state for education, issued his departments guideline informing schools what they could not teach. This included materials from organisations determined to end capitalism, as well as anti-Semitic material, opposition to freedom of speech and which approves of illegal activity. The Labour Party’s John McDonnell pointed out that this would mean that it’s now illegal to teach large sections of British history and particularly that of the Labour Party, trade unions and socialism, because all these organisations at different times advocated the end of capitalism. He is, of course, right. In 1945 or thereabouts, for example, the Labour Party published an edition of the Communist Manifesto. He concluded

“This is another step in the culture war and this drift towards extreme Conservative authoritarianism is gaining pace and should worry anyone who believes that democracy requires freedom of speech and an educated populace.”

The economist and former Greek finance minister, Yanis Varousfakis, who has also written a book, The Crisis of Capitalism, also commented this guidance showed how easy it was for a country to lose itself and slip surreptitiously into totalitarianism. He said

“Imagine an educational system that banned schools from enlisting into their curricula teaching resources dedicated to the writings of British writers like William Morris, Iris Murdoch, Thomas Paine even. Well, you don’t have to. Boris Johnson’s government has just instructed schools to do exactly that.”

Quite. I wonder how the ban affects even mainstream textbooks, which included anti-capitalist or other extremist literature. For example there are any number of readers and anthologies of various political or historical writings published by perfectly mainstream publishers for school and university students. Such as the one below, Critics of Capitalism: Victorian Reactions to ‘Political Economy’, edited by Elisabeth Jay and Richard Jay, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press) 1986). This collects a variety of writings authors such as John Francis Bray, Thomas Carlyle, Marx and Engels, John Stuart Mill, John Ruskin, Matthew Arnold, Thomas Hill Green, William Morris and George Bernard Shaw. These texts obviously document and illustrate the reactions to the rise of economics as an academic subject in the 19th century, and several of the authors are titans of 19th century British culture, literature and political philosophy, like the art critic Ruskin, the socialist, writer and artist, William Morris, the playwright George Bernard Shaw, the liberal political philosophers John Stuart Mill and Thomas Hill Green, and Matthew Arnold, the headmast of Rugby, the author of Culture and Anarchy. This is quite apart from Marx and Engels and John Francis Bray, who was a socialist and follower of Robert Owen. Carlyle’s now largely forgotten, but he was a philosopher and historian who was massively influential in his day.

Clearly this is an entirely respectable text from a very respectable publisher for history students. But, thanks to the government’s new guidelines, you could well ask if it’s now illegal to teach it in schools, thanks to its anti-capitalist contents.

The same question also applies to very respectable histories by respectable, mainstream historians and political scientists, of extremist movements and ideologies like Fascism, Nazism, Communism and anarchism. For example, one of the books I used while studying the rise of Nazism at college was D.G. Williamson’s The Third Reich (Harlow: Longman 1982). It’s an excellent little book published as part of their Seminar Studies in History range. These are short histories of various periods in history from King John and the Magna Carta to the origins of the Second World and the Third Reich, which include extracts from texts from the period illustrating particularly aspects and events. Williamson’s book is a comprehensive history of the Nazi regime, and so includes extracts from Nazi documents like Hitler’s Mein Kampf, Goebbel’s diaries and as well as eyewitness account of Nazi war crimes and individual acts of heroism and resistance. It presents an objective account of Hitler’s tyranny including its horrors and atrocities. There is absolutely no way it, nor other books like it, could remotely be considered pro-Nazi or presenting any kind of positive assessment of Hitler’s regime.

But if schools are now forbidden from teaching anti-capitalist, anti-Semitic, racist and anti-democratic material, does this mean that they are also forbidden from using books like Williamson’s, which include the writings of the Nazis themselves to show the real nature of the regime and the motivations of the men behind it. I hope not, and Owen Jones in his tweet attacking the new guidelines quotes them. From this, it should be possible to make a distinction between texts produced by extremist organisations and extracts from them in mainstream histories or editions from mainstream publishers. According to Jones’ tweet, the guidelines state

Schools should not under any circumstances use resources produced by organisations that take extreme political stances on matters. This is the case even if the material is not extreme, as the use of it could imply endorsement or support of the organisation. Examples of extreme political stances, include, but are not limited to

  1. a publicly stated desire to abolish or overthrow democracy, capitalism or end free and fair elections.

2. opposition to the right of freedom of speech, freedom of association, freedom of assembly, or freedom of religion and conscience.

3. the use or endorsement of racist, including anti-Semitic language or communications.

4. the encouragement or endorsement of illegal activity.

5. a failure to condemn illegal activities in their name or in support of their cause, particularly violent actions against people and property.

Responding to Jones’ tweet, Jessica Simor QC asks this very pertinent question

Do the fourth and fifth bullet points mean that schools should not accept Government money?

Good point.

I also have no doubt that the vast majority are going to be extremely careful about which organisation’s materials they use because of the danger of using extremist or otherwise inappropriate material.

But I can also how sometimes it may also be necessary for schools to use such materials in order to criticise them and educate their pupils about their dangers. For example, in the 1980s the BNP or NF tried to appeal to schoolchildren by launching a comic. Other extremists have also turned up at the school gates on occasion. When I was at school in Bristol during the ’81/2 race riots, a White agitator with a beard like Karl Marx’s turned up outside the school entrance with a megaphone trying to get the kids to join in. We ignored him and the headmaster next day in assembly said very clearly that any child who did join the rioting would be expelled.

Nazis are also known for lying and deliberately distorting history. If some Nazi group, for example, produced a pamphlet aimed at schoolchildren and teachers found it being passed around the playground one of the actions they could take, as well as simply banning it and punishing any kid who tried to promote it, might be for a suitably qualified teacher to go through it, pointing out the deliberate lies. When Hitler himself seized power, one Austrian university lecturer embarrassed the fuhrer by showing his students how Hitler took his ideas from the cheap and grubby neo-Pagan literature published in the back streets of Vienna. One of these pamphlets claimed that the ancient Aryans had possessed radio-electric organs that gave them superpowers like telepathy. I think it was highly unlikely that anyone listening to this professor’s lectures on Hitler ever came away with the idea that Hitler had some deep grasp of the essential forces of human biology and and natural selection.

I see absolutely no point to this legislation whatsoever. Teachers, parents and educators are already careful about what is taught in schools. In the past few years most incidents of this type have come from fundamentalist religious schools. These have mostly been Muslim schools, which have been caught teaching their students to hate Christians, Jews and non-Muslims, but there was also a Jewish school which became the centre of controversy for its opposition to homosexuality. In the 1980s Thatcher and the right-wing press ran scare stories about Communist teachers indoctrinating students with evil subversive subjects like peace studies. I am not aware that anyone with extreme left-wing, Communist or Trotskite views has been trying to indoctrinate children. But there are concerns about Black Lives Matter, which I have heard is a Marxist organisation. If that is the case, then the guidelines seem to be an attempt to ban the use of their materials. BLM did produce materials for a week of action in schools, which was thoroughly critiqued by Sargon of Gasbag, aka Carl Benjamin, the sage of Swindon and the man who broke UKIP. Sargon has extreme right-wing Conservative views himself, though I honestly don’t believe that he is genuinely racist and his criticisms of the BLM school material was reasonable. Williamson’s guidelines look like a badly thought out attempt to stop them being used without causing controversy by tackling the organisation’s anti-racism or its critique of White society.

But it also marks the growing intolerance of the Tories themselves and their determination that schools should be used for the inculcation of their own doctrines, rather than objective teaching that allows children to come to their own. Way back in the 1980s Thatcher tried to purge the universities of Marxists by passing legislation making it illegal for them to hold posts in higher education. They got round it by making a subtle distinction: they claimed to be Marxian rather than Marxist. By which they argued that they had Marxist culture, but weren’t actually Marxists. It’s a legal sleight of hand, but it allowed them to retain their teaching posts.

These new guidelines look like an extension of such previous legislation in order to preserve capitalism from any kind of thorough critique. Even when, as the peeps Mike quotes in his article, show very clearly that it is massively failing in front of our eyes.

Schools are now for indoctrination, not education, as teaching of non-capitalist ideology is forbidden

Don’t Be Fooled – Boris Wants to Strip You of Your Human Rights

Mike put up a piece on Sunday commenting on an article in the Sunday Telegraph that our lawbreaking, lawless Prime Minister and his gang intend to withdraw Britain from the Human Rights Act and the European Convention on Human Rights. This has been a goal of the Tories for nearly a decade. Mike was warning about this as long ago as 2013. Cameron was trying mollify us by saying that they’d replace it with a Bill of Rights. Presumably the title of this proposed Tory replacement was chosen to remind everyone of the Bill of Rights that was issued after the Glorious Revolution of 1688. This was a piece of revolutionary, progressive legislation in its time. However, any Bill of Rights the Tories pass is going to be a highly-diluted replacement for the Human Rights legislation they’ve repealed. If we see such a bill at all. Mike states that the Torygraph article was behind a paywall, so he couldn’t see it. But what he could made no mention of it.

Don’t be fooled. The Tories are an authoritarian party with a dangerous, Stalin-like cult of personality under Generalissimo Boris. Boris has shown us he’s more than willing to break the law to get what he wants, such as illegally proroguing parliament and deceiving the Queen, and now getting his loyal minions to troop into the lobbies to pass a law breaking our international agreements with the EU. He, and they, are a real, present danger to democracy.

The Tory faithful are no doubt welcoming this as some kind of move that will enable them to deport the illegal immigrants – meaning desperate asylum seekers – they tell us are invading this country. There’s also the long-standing complaint that human rights legislation protects the guilty at the expense of their victims. But Conservative commenters on the British constitution have also quoted the 18th century British constitutional scholar, Lord Blackstone, who said that it was better that 10 guilty men go free than one innocent man wrongly punished. The Tories do not want to repeal this legislation because they somehow wish to defend Britain from invasion by illegal immigrants, nor because they wish to protect people by making it easier to jail criminals. They want to repeal this legislation because it protects the public and working people.

One of the reasons the Tories hate the EU is because of the social charter written into its constitution. This guarantees employees certain basic rights. Way back when Thatcher was a power in the land, I remember watching an edition of Wogan when the Irish wit of British broadcasting was interviewing a Tory MP. The Tory made it clear he had no problem with the EU predecessor, the EEC or Common Market. This would have been because, as the European Economic Community, it offered Britain a trading area for our goods and services. What he made clear he didn’t like was the Social Charter. He and the rest of the Tories want to get rid of it in order to make it even easier to sack workers at will, and keep them on exploitative contracts that will deny them sick pay, maternity leave and annual holidays. They want more zero hours contracts and job insecurity. As well as the right, as Mike also points out in his article, to persecute the disabled, for which the Tory government has also been criticised by the EU and United Nations.

The Tories have also shown their extreme authoritarianism, like Blair before them, in passing legislation providing for secret courts. If the government considers it necessary because of national security, an accused person may be tried in a closed court, from which the public and the media are excluded, using evidence which is not disclosed to the accused. This breaks the fundamental principles of democratic, impartial justice. This is that justice should not only be done, it should be seen to be done. Hence the traditional practice of making sure people are tried with the public present. The secret courts are far more like the grotesque, perverted judicial systems of Kafka’s novels The Trial and The Castle, and which became a horrific reality in Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia.

The Tories are also keen to undermine British liberty in another way as well, by reintroducing identity cards. These were carried during the War, when Britain was in real danger from Nazi invasion and Fascist spies and saboteurs. But afterwards, as Zelo Street has reminded us, the government withdrew them because they were seen as a threat to traditional British freedom. Now Dominic Cummings wants to bring them back. So did Thatcher when I was at school in the 1980s. She didn’t get very far. It was rejected then, it should be rejected now.

Apparently the new identity cards will be online or something like that. But this won’t make counterfeiting them any more difficult. Way back in the 1990s the Indonesia government, hardly a bastion of liberal democracy, introduced a computerised identity card. This was supposed to be impossible to hack and and fake. Within a week there were fake cards being sold in the country’s markets.

This looks like a step towards the biometric identity cards Blair was also keen on in the late 90s. These were also condemned by privacy campaigners and opponents of state surveillance, and which eventually seem to have petered out. But it seems that the forces that were pressing for them then have now resurfaced to repeat their demands. And if they’re being made by a government determined to ‘get Brexit done’, then these cards cannot be blamed on the EU, as they were when I was at school.

The Tories have also shown themselves intolerant of demonstrations and protests. When Cameron was in power, he sought to stop or limit public demonstrations through legislation that would allow local authorities to ban them if they caused a nuisance. Mass gatherings and protest marches frequently can be a nuisance to those stuck behind them. But they’re tolerated because freedom of conscience and assembly are fundamental democratic rights. Cameron wished to place severe curbs on these rights, all in the name of protecting communities from unwelcome disturbance. And, in the wake of the Extinction Rebellion blockade of Murdoch’s printing works, Priti Patel wishes to have the press redefined as part of Britain’s fundamental infrastructure in order to prevent it from disruption from similar protests in future. Now that newspapers sales are plummeting thanks to the lockdown to the point where right-wing hacks are imploring you to buy their wretched rags, you wonder if she’s considering legislation making their purchase and reading compulsory.

Don’t be deceived. The repeal of the human rights act is an outright attack on traditional British freedoms by an authoritarian government intolerant of criticism and which casually violates the fundamental principles of justice and democracy. It may be dressed up as protecting decent, law-abiding Brits from crims and illegal immigrants, but this is just another pretext, another lie to get the sheeple to accept it. Tony Benn once warned that the way the government behaves to refugees is the way it would like to behave to its own citizens. He was right, and we shall it when the Tories withdraw from the European legislation currently protecting us.

I’ve no doubt the Tories will try to disguise this through retaining a sham, hollowed out semblance of justice, free speech and democracy. Just like the Soviet Union drew up constitutions guaranteeing similar freedoms to disguise its vicious intolerance. On paper communist East Germany was a liberal state and multiparty liberal democracy when the reality was the complete opposite. Even Mussolini made speeches claiming that that Fascist Italy was not a state that denied the individual their liberty.

The Tory withdrawal from EU Human Rights law is an outright attack on our British freedoms, not a gesture of defiance against European interference. It’s another move towards unBritish, but very Tory, despotism and dictatorship.

As if we didn’t have enough to deal with, Boris Johnson is reviving plans to end your human rights

https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2020/09/online-id-cards-polecat-megalomania.html

The Tories Are the Implacable Enemies of Free Speech

Since 75 members of Extinction Rebellion decided to do what so many people have wanted to and blockade Murdoch print works in England and Scotland, Boris Johnson and his rabble have been pontificating about democracy and the need to protect a free press. This is all crass, hypocritical rubbish, and the truth, as with so much of Tory policy, is the exact opposite. In all too many instances, the Tories are the inveterate enemies of free speech and press freedom.

Mike and Vox Political have both shown this in their articles reporting that the Council of Europe has issued a level 2 media alert warning about Johnson’s government. This was because MoD press officers refused to deal with Declassified UK, a website focusing on foreign and defence stories. This was because Declassified’s journos had been critical of the government’s use of our armed forces. The Council issued a statement that they did so because the act would have a chilling effect on media freedom, undermine press freedom and set a worrying precedent for other journalists reporting in the public interest on the British military. They said that tough journalism like Declassified’s, uncomfortable though it was for those in power, was crucial for a transparent and functioning democracy. This puts Boris Johnson’s government with Putin’s Russia and Turkey, who also have a complete disregard for journalistic freedom.

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2020/09/06/heres-the-shocking-reason-your-tory-government-is-more-guilty-of-attacking-press-freedom-than-extinction-rebellion/

https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2020/09/free-speech-tories-speak-with-forked.html

We’ve been this way before, and it’s grim. Way back in the 1980s, Maggie Thatcher withdrew LWT’s broadcasting license over a similar piece of journalism that severely criticised the military. This was the documentary Death on the Rock, about the SAS’ shooting of a squad of IRA terrorists in Gibraltar. The documentary presented clear evidence that the squad had been under surveillance all their way down through Spain, and that the army could have arrested them at any point without bloodshed. This means that the SAS’s shooting of them was effectively an extra-judicial execution. They acted as a death squad.

This wouldn’t have been the first or only instance of such tactics by the British state in Northern Ireland. Lobster has published a number of articles arguing that special SAS units were active under cover in the province with the deliberate task of assassinating IRA terrorists, and that the security forces colluded secretly with Loyalist paramilitaries to do the same.

I heartily condemn terrorism and the murder of innocents regardless of who does it. But if ‘Death on the Rock’ was correct, then the British state acted illegally. The use of the armed forces as death squads clearly sets a dangerous precedent and is a violation of the rule of law. Most Brits probably agreed with Thatcher that the IRA terrorists got what was coming to them, and so would probably have objected to the documentary’s slant. But as the Tories over here and Republicans in the US have argued again and again about freedom of speech, it’s the freedom to offend that needs to be protected. Allowing only speech that is inoffensive or to which you agree is no freedom at all. Thatcher was furious, LWT lost their broadcasting license, which was given to a new broadcaster, Carlton. No doubt named after the notorious Tory club.

Then there was Thatcher’s interference in the transmission of another documentary, this time by the BBC. This was an edition of Panorama, ‘Thatcher’s Militant Tendency’. This argued that, just as Kinnock’s Labour party had been infiltrated by the hard left Militant Tendency, so Fascists from the National Front, BNP and others had burrowed into the Tories. In fact there’s always been concern about the overlap in membership between the Tories and the far right. In the 1970s there was so much concern that the Monday Club, formerly part of the Tory party until David Cameron severed links with it, opened its membership books to the Board of Deputies of British Jews. The Panorama programme was also too much for Thatcher, who had it spiked.

At the moment, the Tories are running a campaign to defund and privatise the Beeb under the specious claims that it’s biased against them. They were moaning about bias back in the ’90s under John Major and then Tony Blair, because Jeremy Paxman, among the Beeb’s other journos, insisted on asking tough questions. This resulted in Michael Heseltine walking off Newsnight, tossing his mane, as Ian Hislop described it on Have I Got News For You. Right-wing internet radio hack Alex Belfield has been ranting about how the BBC is full of Guardian-reading lefties in the same way Jeremy Clarkson used to about ‘yogurt-knitters’, who also read the same paper. Guido Fawke’s former teaboy, Darren Grimes, has also been leading a campaign to defund the Beeb. He should know about dictatorships and a free press. His former master, Paul Staines, was a member of the Freedom Association when that body supported the Fascist dictatorship in El Salvador. They invited to their annual dinner as guest of honour one year the leader of one of its death squads.

Belfield and the rest of the right-wing media have been loudly applauding the announcement that the new Director-General will cancel left-wing comedy programmes like Have I Got News For You and Mock The Week. Because they’re biased against the Tories. Er, no. Have I Got News For You was as enthusiastically anti-Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party as the rest of the media establishment, to the point where I got heartily sick and tired of watching it. And I haven’t watched Mock the Week for years. I don’t even know if it’s still on. Both the programmes are satirical. They mock the government as well as the rest of the parties. And the dominant, governing party over the past few decades has been the Tories, with the exception of New Labour from 1997-2010 or so. Which means that when they’ve been attacking the Tories, it’s because the Tories have been in power. A friend of mine told me that Ian Hislop, one of the regular contests on HIGNFY and the editor of Private Eye, was once asked which party he was against. He replied ‘Whoever’s in power’. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if he was a Conservative, but that is, ostensibly, the stance of his magazine. The Tories have been expelling much hot air about how a free press holds governments to account. But in the case of the BBC, this is exactly why they despise it.

The Tories hate the BBC because it’s the state broadcaster, and so is an obstacle to the expansion of Rupert Murdoch’s squalid empire of filth and lies. They’d like it defunded and privatised so that Murdoch, or someone like him, can move in. Not least because Murdoch has and is giving considerable support to the Tories. And in return, the Tories and then New Labour gave Murdoch what he wanted, and he was allowed to pursue his aim of owning a sizable chunk of the British press and independent broadcasting with Sky. This has alarmed those concerned about the threat posed by such media monopolies. It’s why Extinction Rebellion were right to blockade Murdoch’s papers, as both Mike and Zelo Street have pointed out. We don’t have a free press. We have a captive press controlled by a handful of powerful media magnates, who determine what gets reported. John Major in his last years in office realised the political threat Murdoch posed, but by this time it was too late. The Tories had allowed Murdoch to get his grubby mitts on as much of the British media as he could, and he had abandoned the Tories for Blair. Who was all too ready to do the same and accede to his demands in return for Murdoch’s media support. Just as Keir Starmer is desperate to do the same.

Murdoch’s acquisition of British papers, like the Times, should have been blocked by the Monopolies and Mergers’ Commission long ago. There were moves to, but Thatcher allowed Murdoch to go ahead. And Tony Benn was right: no-one should own more than one paper. If the Beeb is privatised, it will mean yet more of the British media is owned by one of press and broadcasting oligarchy. And that is a threat to democracy and press freedom.

The Tories are defending the freedom of the press and broadcasting. They’re attacking it.