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The Guardian attacks free speech

Is the Guardian becoming increasingly illiberal? It may have a section of its website called “Comment is Free”, yet it is now attacking free speech when it disagrees with the opinions expressed.

Once a supporter of liberal values, the Guardian was the sort of paper that would have quoted Voltaire’s “I may disagree with what you have to say, but I shall defend, to the death, your right to say it.” But just as it has dropped support for liberal ideas on economics (it was once a free trade paper), it now appears to be dropping liberal ideas about freedom of expression.

In that vein, it is getting itself worked up because one of its rivals, the Telegraph, runs a blogging platform, like Blogger or Typepad, where members of the public can start their own blogs. That blogging platform has been one of the reasons why the Telegraph, according to moaning articles in the Guardian, has recently overtaken the Guardian in online readers.

Among the 20,000 people who have signed up for a ‘MyTelegraph’ blog, one is a member of the anti-immigration British National Party. The Guardian thinks the Telegraph should ban him, but the Telegraph says that it believes in free speech – even when the views are wrong – and rightly so.

The Guardian’s lack of faith in free speech is not just restricted to BNP-type comments. It whines that: “My Telegraph is also inhabited by some very unsavoury characters, including a minority of active members of the far right, anti-abortionists, europhobes and members of an anti-feminist ‘men’s movement’.”

Anti-abortionists! Europhobes! Opponents of excessive feminism! I wonder if the Guardian would prefer a return to the old days before the decentralisation of publishing in which only the elite, who knew best, were allowed a voice.

54 comments to The Guardian attacks free speech

  • I want to join this anti-feminist ‘men’s movement’ but my wife won’t let me.

  • Ian B

    I sometimes comment quite a lot on the Telegraph blog and article comments and oh lawks I’m one of the “Europhobes”. There’s actually quite a nice degree of character to the Telegraph commentariat, including the mysterious postings of Igonikon Jack, the constant catfighting between Mrs. Trellis, the strange Hazel Tree, Quietzapple at al.

    The Grauniad is showing classic progressive thinking here of course- free speech except for that which we disagree with, which we classify as NotSpeech and thus we can (and must indeed) stifle it while still pretending we are for free speech.

  • Andrew Roocroft

    As a title, “The Guardian attacks free speech,” couldn’t be more misleading. The Guardian isn’t advocating using violence against these people to prohibit them from propagating their views, but is simply calling on a private company to disassociate themselves with these opinions and to cease offering them the respectability that doubtless some visitors unfamiliar with the Telegraph’s blog platform will attribute under the banner on the website of a major newspaper.

    It seems a perfectly comprehensible criticism; just as, were a BNP member given carte blanche within the law to post at samizdata, it wouldn’t be denying them free speech to call for the blog’s owners to revoke their privileges. If anything, the attitude in this post enforces the incorrect perception that if one offers a platform for the dissemination of views, one must do it so uncritically and without discrimination; that is, that one is entitled to claim the hosting capacity of the Telegraph &c simply because they have the ability to publish.

    To quote from the Samizdata Social Responsibility Statement,

    Just because this blog is ‘open to the public’ that does not mean it is no longer private property…

  • cerebus

    Samizdata did ban its “race-realist” set, of course.

    Nothing wrong with the Telegraph’s position. It has rightwing nationalist readers, and it wants to provide a broad spectrum of views. The danger is BNP types drown out other voices.

  • It seems a perfectly comprehensible criticism; just as, were a BNP member given carte blanche within the law to post at samizdata, it wouldn’t be denying them free speech to call for the blog’s owners to revoke their privileges.

    You are making a category error, Andrew. Samizdata is not offering a venue for anyone to say anything because we are not a platform offering space to the public. Blogger and TypePad do not ‘censor’ political speech and so the Telegraph’s platform should not be expected to either. The Telegraph itself is not offering its pages (web or dead tree), but My Telegraph is quite a different animal.

  • Oh and I do not see mainstream statists in the three main parties as in ANY way less odious in sum total than the BNP, so any Guardianista lecturing me about the wickedness of the admittedly wicjked BNP will be agreed with and then invited to go hang himself on the next lamppost to the BNP fellah.

  • Chas

    I was threatened with having my “posting privileges” removed by the moderator of Comment is Free this morning. Like many “liberals” they are very tolerant of people with their own views. Woe betide you if you hold any divergent opinion.

    Interesting that they consider the pope to have unsavoury views, bearing in mind his belief in the sanctity of the unborn child.

  • Gabriel

    Oh and I do not see mainstream statists in the three main parties as in ANY way less odious in sum total than the BNP

    Perhaps I am, in the parlance, talking with my blood here, but I think ANY is a wee bit far. The current nature of the BNP is somewhat opaque, but that it was founded as a front group for neo-Nazis with a genocidal ideal programme is documented fact. Not documented is that such characters have been extensively purged by Nick Griffin in hs attempt to rebrand the BNP as a mainstream authoritarian Nationalist party. It is also not clear that Griffin is not actually one of them himself.

    If you had said the same about, say, Respect (who, lest we forget, sort of have an MP to their name and are hence a far bigger stain on the British polity than the BNP), or any of the Communists and Islamists who regularly write on CIF you would have had a point that no reasonable person could very well dispute.

  • I first noticed at university (a long, long time ago) that left-wing people were all for freedom of speech, as long as you said things they supported or endorsed anyway. as soon as you had a contrary opinion, they would shout you down, destroy your posters and generally behave in a way that was contrary to a belief in free speech.

    Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose, eh?

  • Ian B

    As a title, “The Guardian attacks free speech,” couldn’t be more misleading. The Guardian isn’t advocating using violence against these people to prohibit them from propagating their views, but

    The phrase “attack free speech” isn’t normally associated with physical violence so this is an odd criticism. It means a verbal attack.

    ut is simply calling on a private company to disassociate themselves with these opinions and to cease offering them the respectability that doubtless some visitors unfamiliar with the Telegraph’s blog platform will attribute under the banner on the website of a major newspaper.

    This is disingenuous. The purpose of the Grauniad’s publishing that piece, and the use of similar attacks generally, is to chase particular viewpoints out of the public squae, a tactic which the Left are particularly adept at, e.g. “broadcasters should not give time to climate skeptics” arguments. Such attacks will be aimed at anywhere that the disapproved of arguments are aired, be it the media or a street protest or somebody giving a talk at a college. The Guardian is saying that people with views they disapprove of e.g. opposition to the EU or abortion should not be allowed to speak, period. They should be silenced.

  • WalterBoswell

    Doesn’t the Guardian’s CIF act as a shrieking box for Hama’s supporting Gay hating misogynistic Muslim bigots? I bloody well think it does. Pot have you met kettle?

  • Lee Kelly

    The Guardian is saying that people with views they disapprove of e.g. opposition to the EU or abortion should not be allowed to speak, period. They should be silenced. – Ian B

    Right. The Guardian and its readership understand that if they are to have the happy-clappy socialist utopia which is their dream, then everyone needs to stop disagreeing about politics. There are two methods of achieving that end, the first is to convince those with whom you disagree until they voluntarily adopt the same views, and the other is to outlaw or taboo views which you disagree with. The latter is by far the easier and more regularly employed method.

    To the likes of the Guardian or BBC, “diversity” means having people of differing sex, race and nationality all agreeing with the party line.

    Regards,
    Lee

  • Brendan Halfweeg

    Free speech is being able to use your property (or someone else’s with their permission) to broadcast your own viewpoint.

    The Guardian isn’t diminishing free speech by exercising its own freedom of speech to criticise the editorial policy of My Telegraph. If they petition parliament to censor My Telegraph, then they are attacking free speech.

    I don’t defend the Guardian’s view that My Telegraph should self-censor, but I do defend their right to say it.

  • DB

    Here’s someone whose views are more acceptable to the Guardian:
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2004/jan/06/terrorism.comment

  • Gabriel

    Though Mill took things to far, there is certainly such a thing as being culturally for or against free speech. Personally, I operate somewhere in the middle; I think a certain diversity of opinion is healthy, but I don’t measure cultural success by the ease of access to stupid-ass opinions. However, I recognise Samizdata is out on the pro-wing. Hence I defend their right to attack the Guardian for attacking the Telegraph for not self-censoring, or something.

    Trolling Samizdata is an important and noble occupation, but I don’t see much point in doing it in this way.

  • Andrew Roocroft

    You are making a category error, Andrew. Samizdata is not offering a venue for anyone to say anything because we are not a platform offering space to the public. Blogger and TypePad do not ‘censor’ political speech and so the Telegraph’s platform should not be expected to either.

    Apply whatever classifications makes you feel comfortable. The only category that is relevant is that it’s private property, and hence its owners are entitled to withdraw or reject the privilege to post on it entirely at their discretion. If it calls itself a ‘platform’ one moment, it is entirely free to apply different policies the next as a result of the criticism by the Guardian – and in doing so, it doesn’t ‘censor’ anybody. In precisely the same manner, you’re perfectly entitled to remove my comments on this post, and you’re not “attacking free speech” – unless you think that my right to free speech entails your duty to supply for me, and continue to pay for, this website solely for the publication of my views. When it comes to third parties, you may lobby them to allow certain contributors, the Guardian may lobby them against; neither effort has a jot to do with ‘free speech,’ and it’s terribly disingenuous to claim otherwise.

    Would I personally support the Guardian’s lobbying effort? Probably: I think that the Telegraph commands a degree of respect, and it is preferable that nationalist socialists are unable to propagate their message under the Telegraph’s banner. I’m with you, however, on the point regarding the other parties – I’d prefer that the Telegraph refused the statist parties a platform as well. Advocating this doesn’t make me an enemy of free speech.

    Ian B:

    The Guardian is saying that people with views they disapprove of e.g. opposition to the EU or abortion should not be allowed to speak, period.

    They clearly don’t say that at all. They say, the Telegraph ought not to associate with these people by permitting them to use their website. Not that people “should not be allowed to speak” – that is to say, that they ought to prohibiting from speaking. For once, the Guardian is (sort of) on the right side of a negative-positive liberty issue.

    Wanting to “to chase particular viewpoints out of the public square” is an entirely insubstantial charge, and, what meaning it has is perfectly applicable to samizdata and other libertarian blogs: they seek to ridicule, criticize and ostracize statist idiots, chasing their viewpoint out of “the public square”. Entirely acceptable, so long as it doesn’t resort to the threat of coercion to impose its efforts.

  • I read the Telegraph increasingly. I think CiF has become just raving a lot of the time. Walter is right to point out the hypocrisy of the Guardian carping about the ‘graph’s policy.

    If I say that I don’t like queers I’m a homophobe.

    If some deranged mullah does that then we must respect cultural differences.

    If I denounce the deranged mullah’s homophobia I am a racist or Islamophobe.

    I have no idea how the left can square all this, even to itself. Surely they must have worries in the wee small-hours?

    Finally. I don’t recall seeing your byline before, Will. If you’re new then allow me to say, nice piece. I look forward to more.

  • Gabriel

    i.e. it is possible to be against censorship and still believe that unity of opinion is a goal to aim at. It is possible to be against censorship and employ a systematic smear campaign to suppress divergent viewpoints. It is possible to be against censorship and act in a private capacity to restrict access to different viewpoints (i.e. I once heard about a group that tried to buy up every web domain like n**ger.com so racists couldn’t use them).

    Such viewpoints may or may not be wrong, but to claim that they are immune to criticism solely on the grounds that they do not favour censorship is dumb.

    This is the sort of elementary confusion that comes from “ethical libertarianism” i.e. the belief that morality can be assessed according to the same criteria used by a Libertarian in political arguments. One consequence of this is people who say “what’s wrong with bestiality as long as it’s your ox?”, another is “what’s wrong with modern art, it doesn’t infringe on anyone’s rights?” another is “what’s wrong with hobbit porn”, another is what Andrew Roocroft said.

    Samizdata hoist by its own petard! Dee- licious.

  • Andrew Roocroft

    Gabriel;

    I think you may have misunderstood my criticism of this post. I wasn’t saying the Guardian was “immune from criticism,” but that to frame that criticism as “attacking free speech is incorrect. Free speech is entirely a political matter.

    As for my personal views, I would personally support anybody withholding access to their property by the BNP (just as I would for the Labour Party, the Conservatives &c) – anything to stop the dissemination of statist ideas.

  • philmillhaven

    The Guardian isn’t diminishing free speech by exercising its own freedom of speech to criticise the editorial policy of My Telegraph.

    It only isn’t diminished because the Telegraph is more attached to the principle of free speech than it is to political correctness.

    But it is possible to create a climate in which moderate men, even large businesses, are intimidated from being open and forthcoming with their true opinions. What’s offensive about the Guardian’s criticism is that it is clearly an attempt to create such a climate.

    Guardianistas are so convinced that certain views are just wrong — for e.g. racism or sexism — they think the world would be a better place if those who entertained such views were silenced.

    Pouring scorn on the likes of the Telegraph for giving a platform to the BNP not only excludes the BNP from that particular platform, it also intimidates other media from the BBC (as if it were needed) through to blogger.com. In practice, those individuals whose job it is to consider whether BNP supporters should be allowed to air their views then have to balance any attachment they may have to free speech against being branded Nazi-sympathisers.

    While each individual company should (and does) enjoy the right to choose its own editorial policy, if they can all be persuaded through intimidation into adopting the same illiberal, bigoted, narrow world view then although in principle BNP supporters would still have freedom of speech, in practice they would be excluded from public discourse.

    The really frightening thing is that as I typed those last words I know damn well that there would be some readers nodding their head in approval of a world cleansed of racism and sexism. What these dear enlightened thinkers seem oblivious to is the glaring similarity to the plight of women and blacks in the bad old days when bigotry worked in the other direction. For years there were no laws preventing them from getting jobs or from playing tennis in a club built for white men. But the exclusion needn’t be legal when a single ignorant dogma was sufficiently widespread among those in a position to do the excluding.

    And yet when the single ignorant dogma happens also to be their own opinion, our progressive Guardian-reading friends just can’t see the problem. What criminal hypocrisy from the so-called intelligentsia.

  • Gabriel

    OK, the problem then comes from an ambiguity in the term Free Speech. Your position – that it is entirely a political matter – is coherent and intelligble, but I think it is not how the term is always used or how most people use it all of the time.

    Imagine a person who spent his time tracking down people with unusual viewpoints and calling them shitfaces. I think most people would instantly say he was “against free speech” and were you to explain why it was not they would simply respond by saying your technical definition of Free Speech is not the be all and end all.

  • Ian B

    Andrew, anyone who condemns freedom of speech is of course attacking free speech. You’re being ridiculous. The Guardian’s message is that the Telegraph is wrong for allowing this speech in their accessible to the public space. You are naive if you don’t think the Guardian’s agenda is to play its part drumming up a campaign for censorship of the internet.

    They have the right to say what they wish, and we have the right to criticise what they say and analyse their motives and, if appropriate, condemn them.

    Gabriel, you need to think again. To be libertarian is to say “anyone can create hobbit porn” and “anyone can criticise hobbit porn” but nobody has the right to ban it; and if somebody beats the drum for banning it then anyone else has the right to call them the fuckwit they clearly are.

    Anyway, this is all academic. The EU is sinking so fast into a thought-control tyranny that a few years from now we won’t be allowed to say any of this shit anyway, other than in hushed tones, privately, with those we absolutely trust. The Telegraph’s bolshy bloggers may as well enjoy posting while they can; it won’t last long. Nobody will dare post comments to Samizdata that say anything in the least controversial. Europe is finished, unless there is some drastic turnaround which seems immensely unlikely. I just wish you could understand that it wasn’t allowing gay hobbit porn that caused it; it was allowing governments to decide whether to allow gay hobbit porn.

    Societies don’t flourish because of an imposed morality. They flourish because their governments respect their citizens, and their citizens respect themselves. Neither of these things is true any more of the dying old continent. We are Rome, awaiting an unwashed tribe to administer the coup de grace.

  • Interesting point of view from the “green” Guardian which is kept afloat by the Auto Trader.

  • philmillhaven

    The Guardian isn’t diminishing free speech by exercising its own freedom of speech to criticise the editorial policy of My Telegraph.

    It only isn’t diminished because the Telegraph is more attached to the principle of free speech than it is to political correctness.

    But it is possible to create a climate in which moderate men, even large businesses, are intimidated from being open and forthcoming with their true opinions. What’s offensive about the Guardian’s criticism is that it is clearly an attempt to create such a climate.

    Guardianistas are so convinced that certain views are just wrong — for e.g. racism or sexism — they think the world would be a better place if those who entertained such views were silenced.

    Pouring scorn on the likes of the Telegraph for giving a platform to the BNP not only excludes the BNP from that particular platform, it also intimidates other media from the BBC (as if it were needed) through to blogger.com. In practice, those individuals whose job it is to consider whether BNP supporters should be allowed to air their views then have to balance any attachment they may have to free speech against being branded Nazi-sympathisers.

    While each individual company should (and does) enjoy the right to choose its own editorial policy, if they can all be persuaded through intimidation into adopting the same illiberal, bigoted, narrow world view then although in principle BNP supporters would still have freedom of speech, in practice they would be excluded from public discourse.

    The really frightening thing is that as I typed those last words I know damn well that there would be some readers nodding their head in approval of a world cleansed of racism and sexism. What these dear enlightened thinkers seem oblivious to is the glaring similarity to the plight of women and blacks in the bad old days when bigotry worked in the other direction. For years there were no laws preventing them from getting jobs or from playing tennis in a club built for white men. But the exclusion needn’t be legal when a single ignorant dogma was sufficiently widespread among those in a position to do the excluding.

    And yet when the single ignorant dogma happens also to be their own opinion, our progressive Guardian-reading friends just can’t see the problem. What criminal hypocrisy from the so-called intelligentsia.

  • Andrew Roocroft

    Ian B:

    Andrew, anyone who condemns freedom of speech is of course attacking free speech. You’re being ridiculous.

    And tautologies are tautological.

    There’s a massive difference between saying somebody should be prohibited from doing something, and saying that nobody should help them to do it. By analogy, I don’t think anybody ought to be prohibited from committing voluntary euthanasia – but by the same token, I can advocate that, ethically, nobody should help somebody who wants to commit voluntary euthanasia, and instead support their palliative care &c. There’s a world of difference between these positions, and to lump them together under one heading is extremely misleading.

    So too with ‘free speech.’ Supporting politically ‘free speech’ doesn’t imply that one is culturally in favour of ‘diversity of opinion.’ Another, perhaps better example, is multiculturalism: I suspect many commenters here have skepticism about its merits, but would not advocate violent means (eg, immigration restrictions, barriers to trade, closing private mosques &c) to remedy its downfalls. The confusion of terms with freedom of speech allows one to paint one’s opponents as ‘illiberal,’ when they make a criticism or recommend that a company cease to associate with somebody: there are two different, totally separate, issues here.

    So, I object morally to anybody who allows their webspace, printing press or village hall to be used for the furtherence of statist objectives. Do you think that makes me anti-free speech?

    The Guardian’s message is that the Telegraph is wrong for allowing this speech in their accessible to the public space. You are naive if you don’t think the Guardian’s agenda is to play its part drumming up a campaign for censorship of the internet.

    Very fair point – the Guardian are just another group of collectivists. Nonetheless, for entirely different reasons, I would share their criticism of the Telegraph. Unless I’ve misunderstood, the argument made in the post and that you guys are defending is that the Telegraph ought not to reject association with the BNP, since, according to Perry, “Blogger and TypePad do not ‘censor’ political speech and so the Telegraph’s platform should not be expected to either.”. This is of ‘diversity of opinion’ type – as when you objected to the Left’s attempts to “chase particular viewpoints out of the public square.”

    They have the right to say what they wish, and we have the right to criticise what they say and analyse their motives and, if appropriate, condemn them.

    Naturally. Criticism may be appropriate because of their motives. I don’t think, as somebody who dislikes to see any respectable institution enabling the dissemination of statist ideas, that it’s an appropriate criticism of the content of their criticism of the Telegraph.

  • philmillhaven

    The Guardian isn’t diminishing free speech by exercising its own freedom of speech to criticise the editorial policy of My Telegraph.

    It only isn’t diminished because the Telegraph is more attached to the principle of free speech than it is to political correctness.

    But it is possible to create a climate in which moderate men, even large businesses, are intimidated from being open and forthcoming with their true opinions. What’s offensive about the Guardian’s criticism is that it is clearly an attempt to create such a climate.

    Guardianistas are so convinced that certain views are just wrong — for e.g. racism or sexism — they think the world would be a better place if those who entertained such views were silenced.

    Pouring scorn on the likes of the Telegraph for giving a platform to the BNP not only excludes the BNP from that particular platform, it also intimidates other media from the BBC (as if it were needed) through to blogger.com. In practice, those individuals whose job it is to consider whether BNP supporters should be allowed to air their views then have to balance any attachment they may have to free speech against being branded Nazi-sympathisers.

    While each individual company should (and does) enjoy the right to choose its own editorial policy, if they can all be persuaded through intimidation into adopting the same illiberal, bigoted, narrow world view then although in principle BNP supporters would still have freedom of speech, in practice they would be excluded from public discourse.

    The really frightening thing is that as I typed those last words I know damn well that there would be some readers nodding their head in approval of a world cleansed of racism and sexism. What these dear enlightened thinkers seem oblivious to is the glaring similarity to the plight of women and blacks in the bad old days when bigotry worked in the other direction. For years there were no laws preventing them from getting jobs or from playing tennis in a club built for white men. But the exclusion needn’t be legal when a single ignorant dogma was sufficiently widespread among those in a position to do the excluding.

    And yet when the single ignorant dogma happens also to be their own opinion, our progressive Guardian-reading friends just can’t see the problem. What criminal hypocrisy from the so-called intelligentsia.

  • J

    What Andrew said. To say:

    “The Telegraph should not allow extremists to use its platform”

    is entirely different from saying

    “No-one should be allowed, under threat of punishment by the state, to create a platform and allow extremists to use it”.

    One is anti extremism and (possibly) anti the particular platform in question. The other is anti extremism and anti free speech.

    It is the same world of difference between someone saying “It is filthy and immoral to have sex outside of marriage” and someone saying “Those who have sex outside of marriage should be fined or imprisoned, because it is filthy and immoral”. I disagree strongly with both statements, but they are very different statements.

    Now, I happen to think that many at the Guardian would be pretty comfortable with a law actually criminalising some of this stuff – but that is not what the article is advocating in any way – it’s not even hinting at it.

    The Guardian actually raises and interesting point about when does a publisher become a platform. If the Telegraph sticks its logo ontop of some random blogger’s post, is that post now published by the telegraph (albeit at low cost and without any editorial effort)? The distinction between carrier, platform and publisher will continue to get more and more blurred, and this is something that needs discussing

  • Ian B

    Here’s one of the Grauniad’s questions to My Telegraph-

    We think we’ve identified a couple of instances where active members of the BNP are using MyTelegraph to promote the party. The question is, how do you respond to this kind of content? Is there anything you can do to police it or deter it?

    Now you can take that at face value without looking for context and say “well, it’s just a question somebody is asking”. But quite clearly the Guardian here is saying that the Tel shouldn’t allow BNP views to be published. Well, they’re entitled to that view, right?

    But in a broader sense, they would clearly level the same argument against any web gatekeeper, or indeed against anyone in the technology chain e.g. “Dear hosts, you host the BNP website on your servers. You should police them and not let content like that in your server center.” And so on.

    The call here is a generalised call for the blocking of such content from the web, which happens to be targetting a particular content gatekeeper (the Telegraph) in this instance.

    They aren’t arguing against the BNP’s policies, they’re arguing against them being allowed. Anywhere. It’s a “no decent person would let this thing exist” argument. They are attacking the existence of the speech not arguing against the content of the speech on a free, equal debating basis. The hope is the cutting off of the BNP’s ability to speak.

    We know from a practical level that such attacks against the “enablers” of speech can be very effective, and the Guardian knows that too. They hope to start a moral panic which will frighten web publishers into self censorship. Such moral panics are effective as they can hit the target either by initiating government intervention, or commercially with drops in share price, loss of advertising, other companies refusing to deal with the target company and so on and as such are a frequent tactic of moralist campaigners. (I’ve a little experience with this running an “adult” website- in the past moral panics have been used to frighten hosts from hosting, other websites with dealing with us, and most effectively pushing payment processors into refusing to process with us or imposing arbitrary regulations (credit card companies)).

    So I don’t count an article like this as just part of a free speech debate. It’s a deliberate tactic to impose the Guardian’s will on the internet at large. One article isn’t much on its own, but it helps create an atmosphere that can be extremely effective. I’m sure the Guardian published it for that very reason.

  • Pa Annoyed

    I thought the most revealing bit was near the end.

    “The difference is largely that the article which spawns the debate is always written by a “commissioned” blogger. Here, in new media parlance, the journalists act as “gatekeepers” initiating the story and moderating the discussion. My Telegraph, however, unlocks the gate and hands over the key.”

    This is a point that other bloggers have noted before in MSM’s relations with the ‘new media’. The thing that really gets their goat is the fact that it’s not limited to the profession. Without trained journalists to stand as gatekeepers over the public discourse, quality of information dissemination will fall, and the public will be grievously misinformed. A tragedy, a harbinger of the end of civilisation, especially for paid professional journalists.

    It’s not PC totalitarianism attacking free speech, it’s vested-interest Luddites in fear of a threat to the monopoly.

    And anyway, even if this was a case of attempted censorship, the left have spoken out against free speech for those they disagree with for many years now, so it wouldn’t exactly have been news. Newspapers, eh? Meanwhile, and totally off topic, more rubbish from the Daily Mail…

  • Ian B

    Since the comment I just posted got smited, and if the Samizdatistas are wise they’ll all be down the pub or in the arms of a concubine at this hour, I’ll post something shorter but vaguely similar.

    “The Telegraph should not allow extremists to use its platform”

    That’s a literal reading of the Guardian’s article, but what they’re actually saying is that nobody should allow “extremists” (as defined by the Guardian) to speak, and are pointing at the Telegraph to add to a chilling effect on internet speech.

    It’s not coincidental that they’re saying this while the authoritarian lobby are talking up the need for “codes of practice” and the like. The aim is to censor the web. The Guardian are playing their part like good little statist poodles.

  • Gabriel

    It is indisputable that people now have far more access to ‘information’ from a wide diversity of viewpoints than, say, 200 years ago. Partly this is because of a relaxation of censorship laws (though the abolition/non-enforcement of obscenity and blasphemy laws has been balanced somewhat by new “incitement to” laws), but mostly it is purely down to technological advances.

    There is an argument that because of this, we have a moral duty to make sure, without using force, that certain views are spread as little as possible. People who make such a case will usually argue that, though we can’t ban them, it is nevertheless categorically bad for these views to be widespread, that they deform and stain our polity and should not be allowed ‘the oxygen of publicity’ to do so further. Some may argue that the Telegraph is acting wrongly in deontological terms (he who touches pitch is defiled), some in a utilitarian manner (propagation of racist views leads to murders etc.). This seems to me more or less what the Guardian is saying here.

    On the other side, some will argue that it is a good in itself to have as vigorous and multi-faceted a public debate as possible and that such technological advances are to be welcomed. They will probably buttress their argument by claiming that bad ideas should be exposed to as much criticism as possible so they can disproved and that good ideas should be so they can be refined and honed. This seems to me to be more or less what Samizdata is saying.

    Personally, I fall somewhere between the two stalls so I shant comment. I have some sympathy with the Guardian’s viewpoint, but I’d be more impressed if they practised what they preach. However, it is obvious that many of the commentators are spectacularly missing the point.

    Nor is this, on reflection, a purely apolitical issue. Imagine that the government dropped income tax and financed this with a special “website tax”. Plainly this would have the effect of vastly decreasing the amount of blogs run by Britons. One would be hard-pressed to say this was a drop in freedom per se. (maybe the obverse as more people earnan income than run a website), but it would undeniably be an attack on Free Speech. [I might be tempted to argue against such a move on the grounds that Fiscal policy whould not be used as a tool of social manipulation, but, given the current hegemony of supply side economics on the Right, I'd be pretty lonely].

    Nor is this a pure hypothetical. The press as we know it dates from Palmerston’s abolition of the Paper Tax, which did not increase freedom per se. because it was balanced by increases elsewhere (sugar I think). It was, though, at the time cause celébre for Liberals precisely because it was judged, rightly, to be a step forward for Free Speech (will Stephens is completely accurate that the current Guardian view represents a departure). Narrow minded rights based Libertarianism might claim otherwise, but that is moot.

    If I may be permitted to spin off, it seems to me obvious that technology throws up a a host of issues that cannot be solved in so reductive a fashion. For example the right to demonstrate is basic, but its protection once had a far more salutary effect than at present. It used to be that the amount of fuss once could cause with a demo was more or less proportional to the popularity of the cause. Thus, though it could work otherwise, demonstrations had a certain democratizing effect on the polity, which was especially important before mass suffrage. Now all you need is a few hardcore freaks – who will never, ever be won over by reason- with a megaphone to ruin thousands of people’s day. Now, I’m not suggesting we should necessarily do anything about this, but it is a problem and I’ve seen too many Graduation Ceremonies ruined by no more than a dozen Animal Libertation Front d**kheads to be persuaded otherwise.

    The dilemmas posed by the impacts of new technology on our civilization are complex, far too much so to be reduced to formulaic ideologies. Sometimes I think we have to throw up our hands and say that, just as we now have vastly higher living standards, we also have to live with some shitty things too. However, to deny that the shitty things (i.e. fascists spreading their crap worldwide) are shitty, won’t do any good.

  • Rob

    Europhobes, eh? Shocking. I can see why the Guardianistas are outraged.

    Meanwhile, here are some comment articles in the Guardian from mainstream commentators:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2004/jan/06/terrorism.comment

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2005/jul/22/theguardian.pressandpublishing1

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2005/aug/11/terrorism.world1

    Messianic lunatics bent on destroying the West? No problem, as long as they aren’t ‘Europhobic’ as well, I guess.

  • brian

    The way I see it, the Torygraph would not be limiting in any way the free speech of the BNP if they banned them from their site (or platform or blog or whatever). The BNP has their own site as well as many other ways to try and propagrate their disturbing agenda.

  • philmillhaven

    The Guardian isn’t diminishing free speech by exercising its own freedom of speech to criticise the editorial policy of My Telegraph.

    It only isn’t diminished because the Telegraph is more attached to the principle of free speech than it is to political correctness.

    But it is possible to create a climate in which moderate men, even large businesses, are intimidated from being open and forthcoming with their true opinions. What’s offensive about the Guardian’s criticism is that it is clearly an attempt to create such a climate.

    Guardianistas are so convinced that certain views are just wrong — for e.g. racism or sexism — they think the world would be a better place if those who entertained such views were silenced.

    Pouring scorn on the likes of the Telegraph for giving a platform to the BNP not only excludes the BNP from that particular platform, it also intimidates other media from the BBC (as if it were needed) through to blogger.com. In practice, those individuals whose job it is to consider whether BNP supporters should be allowed to air their views then have to balance any attachment they may have to free speech against being branded Nazi-sympathisers.

    While each individual company should (and does) enjoy the right to choose its own editorial policy, if they can all be persuaded through intimidation into adopting the same illiberal, bigoted, narrow world view then although in principle BNP supporters would still have freedom of speech, in practice they would be excluded from public discourse.

    The really frightening thing is that as I typed those last words I know damn well that there would be some readers nodding their head in approval of a world cleansed of racism and sexism. What these dear enlightened thinkers seem oblivious to is the glaring similarity to the plight of women and blacks in the bad old days when bigotry worked in the other direction. For years there were no laws preventing them from getting jobs or from playing tennis in a club built for white men. But the exclusion needn’t be legal when a single ignorant dogma was sufficiently widespread among those in a position to do the excluding.

    And yet when the single ignorant dogma happens also to be their own opinion, our progressive Guardian-reading friends just can’t see the problem. Criminal hypocrisy from the so-called intelligentsia.

  • nonymouse

    Coming from anglo-phobic, hetero-phobic, democra-phobic, phobic- phobics what do you expect?

  • Frederick Davies

    There are two ways in which The Guardian is attacking Freedom of Speech:

    First, it is The Telegraph’s decision to create an uncensored blog in which all are welcome within the bounds of the Law; The Guardian lecturing them about who should or should not be allowed to contribute is attacking their private property rights to control OR NOT who accesses their blogs. The fact they are not calling for a ban does not invalidate the fact The Guardian does not respect The Telegraph’s right to do as they see fit with their property, even handing the door keys to whoever comes past first. The Guardian does not seem (or want) to understand that listening to what someone has to say does not imply you agree with them; as Aristotle said: “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”

    Second, those who defend The Guardian by saying they are just expressing their displeasure at who The Telegraph is allowing a voice, often forget that those expressions of displeasure have been used in the past as the starting point for more serious attacks. The Left has a long history of shouting opponents into silence as a prelude for banning them. Why do you think there are laws in the UK banning certain kinds of speech? Do you think those laws came about from a vacuum? No, they came to be out of a concerted attack by the Left to, first, silence them, second, marginalize them, and third, ban them. Many still do not understand (even if they should know better) that by singling out and marginalizing any kind of speech you are attacking all speech. You never win by playing by your enemies’ rules.

    Finally, isn’t it curious that here we are arguing about what a bunch of socialists say or not about The Telegraph blogs, while the most interesting parts of that paper concerning Liberty today were Simon Heffer’s attack on the Welfare State(Link) and an editorial calling for universities to free themselves from State interference(Link)? Talk about playing your enemies’ game!

  • Alasdair

    One has to admit that this is a good example of one of the more illuminating litmus tests for various forms of un(der)informed extremists … the Yes answer to any of the following is a self-indictment by the person answering Yes …

    Is it OK to physically force political speakers off a stage as a protest against Fascism ?

    If the Arctic ice-cap melted instantaneously, will sea-level around the planet rise by more than 3 feet (1 metre) ?

    Is it true that power plants burning fossil fuels to produce electricity release less radioactivity into the atmosphere than running nuclear power plants to produce electricity ?

  • pete

    The Guardian and the Telegraph can ban who they like for all I care. What I don’t like is being forced to pay for the BBC’s view on the world before I’m allowed to watch football on Sky Sports.

    The BBC is down market dross and self indulgent news reporting. No harm in that, but why do I have to pay for it just because I want to watch football on sky Sports without getting a fine and a criminal recrd?

  • The only category that is relevant is that it’s private property, and hence its owners are entitled to withdraw or reject the privilege to post on it entirely at their discretion

    Sorry to sound harsh but this is the core reason I regard so much libertarian discourse as pretty circular and verging on pointless. Private property is a consequence of free will/autonomy, not the root of all philosophical positions and sure as hell no basis to argue against the left (Why? Because it is irrelevent to them). When the left attacks in something in a newspaper, it inevitably is just a stage in political action. Claims to the contrary can be safely ignored.

    Also, you seem to not understand what is ment by a platform. It it a technical term, not a matter of what they chose to call themselves. Samizdata is not a platform. My Telegraph (and TypePad) are.

  • permanentexpat

    Free speech?
    What’s that?
    Have I missed something?

  • Ian B

    Sorry to sound harsh but this is the core reason I regard so much libertarian discourse as pretty circular and verging on pointless. Private property is a consequence of free will/autonomy, not the root of all philosophical positions and sure as hell no basis to argue against the left (Why? Because it is irrelevent to them)

    I like that paragraph.

  • Sunfish

    Ian B channels the Guardian’s question to the Telegraph:

    We think we’ve identified a couple of instances where active members of the BNP are using MyTelegraph to promote the party. The question is, how do you respond to this kind of content? Is there anything you can do to police it or deter it?

    Sunfish writes the Telegraph’s response for them:

    We respond that everyone needs to be heard, even the sorts of ignorant pigf**kers who join the BNP or sit on the Guardian’s editorial board. Evil dumbasses in the spotlight are correctly made the object of humor. Evil dumbasses who sit in dark corners because they’re banned from the light look like they have a legitimate grievance and can claim that “The Man” is keeping them down.

    So put me firmly in the camp that says that the Telegraph should simply tell the Guardian’s people to go and pleasure themselves with a three-pound frozen vegetarian burrito.

    The really frightening thing is that as I typed those last words I know damn well that there would be some readers nodding their head in approval of a world cleansed of racism and sexism.

    I want to conquer the world,
    give all the idiots a brand new religion
    eliminate poverty, uncleanliness, and toil
    promote equality in all of my decisions

    I want to conquer the world
    expose the culprits and feed them to the children
    do away with air pollution and then we’ll save the whales
    we’ll have peace on Earth and global communion

    Funny. I was just listening to that over the weekend. They go so well with skiing.

  • manuel II paleologos

    This is how freedoms are eroded. You ban something (e.g. fascism). Then bit by bit you declare anything you dislike to be fascism and therefore banned.

    This is what worries me about anti-terrorism legislation. It’s not that I worry about Moazzem Beg. I worry that someone will decide that calling someone a poof or objecting to dismembering babies is also a form of terrorism.

  • Gabriel

    Manuel, the process is already well underway, albeit mostly, though not exclusively, abroad.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    I am with Andrew on this. Ultimately, the Telegraph “platform” is owned by the Telegraph Group (ie, the Barclay twins). It is private property and people who avail themselves of it are guests on that property. It is not open like a public park: it is owned by the Telegraph Group, which hosts it and presumably pays for the associated IT costs.

    I have no problem with privately owned platforms or whatever setting down editorial guidelines; if people dislike these guidelines, they can go elsewhere. We have had few compunctions about throwing various “race-realist” tossers and other monomaniacs off this site in the past, not least because of their incredible rudeness and refusal to respect even the most basic terms of etiquette.

  • Magnus

    Once a supporter of liberal values, the Guardian was the sort of paper that would have quoted Voltaire’s “I may disagree with what you have to say, but I shall defend, to the death, your right to say it.”

    FYI: While they may have quoted that phrase, they wouldn’t have been quoting Voltaire. He didn’t write that particular line.

  • Meanwhile, in Canada university student unions are trying to ban “unacceptable” groups like those opposed to abortion.

    The idea that the Guardian’s position isn’t at least a salvo against free speach is untenable.

  • Ian B

    The rendering of their victims as unacceptable is routine; the Left really believe that their way is so obvious that anyone who disagrees is either evil or deranged. This is true even if they change their policy on something; ignoring that the left once believed A, but now believe Not A, believers in A are deemed malign or mad.

    An obvious example here is the European Union. The Left once opposed it, until they realised it was an ideal vehicle for their own malignity. Now people who disagree with this political structure- an entirely reasonable personal stance to take- are defined as not just wrong but suffering a mental disorder called Europhobia which is classed with all their other Evils Which Must Not Be Allowed, as we saw in the Guardian’s complaints about what is allowed on My Telegraph.

    I think they need to be recognised as suffering from something we might call “libertophobia”, perhaps.

  • Laird

    I may disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to mis-attribute this quote to Voltaire.

  • Paul Marks

    Of course some Labour party Members of Parliament are opposed to all powerful European Union.

    And not just on the Hugh Gaitskell “right” of the party – like Frank Field, Kate Hoey and Austin Mitchell. There are still some on the left of the Labour party who are opposed – such as Denis Skinner (traditionally most of the left of the Labour party were opposed to an all mighty E.U.).

    So the Guardian is being careless with facts – no shock there.

    But still “Guardian opposed to free speech”.

    What next – “water is wet”?

    The Guardian has been opposed to free speech for many years – as are the group of people it tends to represent. The type of people who control the universities and so on.

  • MarkE

    Interesting that the article quotes the Guardian as saying “My Telegraph is also inhabited by some very unsavoury characters, including a minority of active members of the far right, anti-abortionists, europhobes and members of an anti-feminist ‘men’s movement’” yet most of the comments above seem to relate to the BNP.

    So the Guardian equates a distrust of the EU (as always mis described as Europhobia; EU-phobia would be less inaccurate), opposition to abortion and belief that maybe feminism has gone too far, with support for the BNP.

    They’ll be calling everyone who disagrees with them “facist” next.

  • eleutheria

    Would have so much more effect if the Guardian hadn’t put in a piece by the murdering dictator Castro yesterday…

  • Gabriel

    My first link screwed up, here’s what I was referring to. (Link).

    Smith based her decision on emergency laws introduced after a 2005 terrorist attack in London.