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January 09, 2015



The benefits of greater freedom are latent and diffuse. They exist as opportunities that each of us will discern and value differently. It is hard for people to come together to defend this freedom.

But when we want to restrict freedom, there is some specific problem or offense that is very blatant and hurts a very specific set of people. These can easily organise to restrict the offending freedom.

Perry de Havilland

"Nor should we expect companies to support freedom. Those bloggers who have criticized newspapers for not reprinting Charlie Hebdo's cartoons miss the point – that people become bosses by surrendering principle to pragmatism, which is no basis for a vigorous defence of freedom"

I disagree with it comes to the Fourth Estate. It is not a job like being a baker or delivery driver or banker. Freedom of expression lies at the very heart of western civilisation and if journalists will not take risks for that then they should find some safer job to do or expect to be criticised for their lack of courage.

But if they do take up the pen, they should be held to certain standards socially and if they lack the fortitude for the job, then they have no business saying "Je suis Charlie" because they ain't unless they republish something calculated to offend certain sensibilities.

gastro george

"Freedom of expression lies at the very heart of western civilisation ..."

At a time when there is a tendency towards Manichean judgments, I don't think aligning "freedom" and "the west" is very constructive.

I don't really think you're getting the point. To take Chris' point one step further, the state is quite keen to ensure that the jihadi's freedom of expression is not heard - as it's currently illegal.

Luis Enrique

is consistency - or the absence of hypocrisy - what we are after here? Might it not make sense to say you are free to do X but not Y?


To be fair to Clegg, his party opposed the Offensive Behaviour at Football Bill on Holyrood, and I don't think he can be held responsible for what Police Scotland have to say either.

And I have some sympathy for those news outlets which have not republished the Charlie Hebdo cartoons, despite their obvious newsworthiness. It's easy for me to say that it is in the public interest for them to be seen, but I'm not the person whose office might be attacked. I believe in free speech, but I also like not being dead.

gastro george

The height of absurdity is reached on the Guardian letters page today (http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jan/08/charlie-hebdo-defence-definition-free-speech) with an attack on Mark Steel and Jeremy Hardy because, you know, it's mandatory for every comedian to satirise Islam instead of addressing domestic issues, because the former is just so much more constructive.


There seems to be an assumption here that a) freedom of speech is an absolute right, and that b) offence can never cause harm.

Neither is true.


Oh, and additionally, you argue, Chris, that "bloggers who have criticized newspapers for not reprinting Charlie Hebdo's cartoons miss the point - that people become bosses by surrendering principle to pragmatism, which is no basis for a vigorous defence of freedom".

OK then Chris, you're the boss of this blog. Reprint the Charlie Hebdo cartoons, why don't you? And if not, why not?

In the absence of action or explanation, it might seem to many that you have simply concurred in what you seem to despise in others, and surrendered principle to pragmatism.


Always simple and wrong? Life is more complicated. Expression can defend and offend, but it can also deceive, intimidate, and threaten. It can undermine itself.

Muslims seriously need to get over themselves

Politicians are falling over themselves now to defend freedom of speech - the very same politicians who would have had the cartoonists prosecuted for "hate crimes" if they had been published in Britain.

Ralph Musgrave

Chris’s criticism of Police Scotland for prosecuting offensive tweets is not justified. The Police simply implement laws passed by others, and when it comes to “offensiveness” and “hate speech”, that’s laws passed by the PC brigade. If you asked a selection of members of the police force in private what they thought of political correctness, I’d guess most would reach for the puke bucket.

Dave Timoney

Freedom of expression entails the right to say nothing. Just as it is odious to insist that all muslims must formally denounce the Paris killings, so it is dictatorial to insist that Chris (or any other media magnate) should republish the Charlie Hebdo cartoons "in solidarity".

For the record, "offensiveness" is not a crime (otherwise professional shit-stirrers like Katie Hopkins would not have a career), and nor is "hate speech" per se. A crime only arises where speech is threatening (e.g. calling for someone to be killed), causes unreasonable harassment or distress (e.g. saying someone deserves to be raped), or is intended to indirectly promote criminal acts (e.g. inciting racial or religious hatred).

There is obviously leeway in interpretation over the likelihood of a consequential act, and poorly-drafted future legislation might make this even fuzzier, but it is worth remembering that many of the "police investigations" reported by the media in respect of "hate speech" fizzle out almost immediately. We are not living under a PC Big Brother.

Deviation From The Mean

I think the left should support freedom of speech (even in its sham guise under a system of mass inequality, where everyone is free but some have more freedom than others) but criticise it when it is abused, i.e. when it is used to distort, pull the wool over peoples eyes, to promote bigotry etc etc.

I agree with the thrust of this article, every little word out of place is jumped upon these days, almost the pc world gone mad.

My only problem with this article is your claim that you keep out of matters such as this and stick to economics. That isn't quite true, you certainly keep quiet when for example, Israel commits one it's frequent atrocities but you tend to put your pennies worth in when some 'mad' Muslims kick off.

I am going to make up a new category for people like you, Establishments Marxists.

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