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British journalists lock each other up and throw away the key

28 October 2013

28 October 2013

In the past few days, my colleagues on the Guardian have been publishing stories of national and international significance – indeed, if truth be told, they have been publishing them for most of the autumn.

The international scoop was that America’s National Security Agency tapped Angela Merkel’s mobile phone (along with the phones of many more world leaders). As the shock of the revelation has sunk in, most observers have grasped that the shrug-of-the-shoulder explanation that ‘spies spy’, doesn’t really work in this instance.

Spies in democratic countries are meant to be under democratic control. Elected politicians have few problems authorising surveillance on their country’s enemies. But when it comes to their country’s friends, they should balance their curiosity about what Merkel is saying with the political costs of an ally discovering that America is treating her as if she were an international terrorist. The whole point of democratic supervision of the intelligence services is that politicians can tell the spies that just because they can do something does not mean they should.

The Guardian scoop showed that the Obama administration either did not care about the possible damage exposure would bring, or let its spies do as they pleased, and abandoned its democratic duty to oversee the secret state. For whatever reason, America has suffered a diplomatic disaster as a result.

I don’t see how any reasonable person can argue that a British newspaper should not break a story about a foreign power spying on another foreign power, when there is no threat whatsoever that the revelation will help terrorists groups or organised crime. That criticism persists shows that the Guardian’s enemies are suffering from an advanced case of what Orwell called ‘transferred nationalism’: though nominally British they have transferred their loyalty to the United States, and react to any threat to American interests as if it were a threat their own.

In any case, the Guardian – for whose parent company I work, I should add – is not only bringing us foreign news. On Saturday, its correspondent James Ball answered a question that has baffled everyone who has hung around the criminal justice system: why do the police and security services refuse to present intercept evidence in court? The answer is that they feared that the public might realise the scale of state surveillance – and protest. Hence, the intelligence services lobbied furiously to hide the fact that, in their words, telecoms firms, had gone ‘well beyond’ what they were legally required to do to help intercept communications. For good measure, GCHQ admitted in private to fearing a legal challenge under the Human Rights Act if its surveillance methods became better known.

The concerns about the failure to produce bugged evidence do not always fall within the standard arguments between liberal doves and national security hawks. Juries acquit guilty men because prosecutors cannot reveal the full case against them. In a free society spies should accept – must accept – that we need an open debate on intercept evidence involving the judiciary, the legal profession, parliament and – for we are meant to be a democracy, after all – the public. We need it even more, when, by its own admission, GCHQ may be breaking the law.

But open debates aren’t the fashion in Britain. We don’t do that kind of thing here.
Tonight, David Cameron warned the Guardian that if it did not ‘demonstrate some social responsibility it would be very difficult for government to stand back and not to act.’

No one should have been surprised. The ground for his threat to the free press had been well manured by none other than the free press itself.

A friend of mine with time on his hands read all the comment in blogs and columns the Daily Telegraph had run on the Guardian and the security service leaks. His weary eyes surveyed 20 pieces in total. All damned the Guardian, he found. Not one defended the right of newspapers to hold the state to account, even after agents of the state went into the Guardian’s office and supervised the destruction of a computer with copies of Edward Snowden’s documents on. The idea that you defend the freedom to publish – regardless of whether you agree with what is published or not – never occurred to its writers.

The only exception in the wider Telegraph stable was Janet Daley of the Sunday Telegraph, an American expat, significantly. She described her astonishment at the unwillingness of the British to stand-up for basic liberties. ‘An editor of the US National Review wrote last week of those “who steadfastly refuse to express anxiety unless they can actually hear jackboots,”‘ she said. ‘Note: once you hear the jackboots, it’s too late.’

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The editor of the Mail, meanwhile, came as close as he dared to demanding that the police arrest the editor of the Guardian. Earlier this month, Stephen Glover, his in-house columnist, reported that Oliver Robbins, Britain’s deputy national security adviser, had said that the Guardian has ‘already done real damage’ to Britain by its revelations, and that information still held by the newspaper could lead to a ‘widespread loss of life’. Suitably primed, Glover thundered:

The Guardian is being accused of putting at risk not only the lives of agents but also potentially the lives of ordinary British people, whom MI5 will now find it more difficult to protect. Divide the accusations in two, and then halve them again, and they are still mind-boggling.

This is the language of a treason trial; words that justify any action by the state to silence the journalist. The reason the Mail deploys them goes far beyond disagreements over one story. Foreigners will not understand the circular firing squad the British media has formed unless they understand that the British Right has its own version of the Marxist myth of false-consciousness.

It believes that the reason why the public do not turn to it and hail conservatives as their champions and saviours has nothing to do with the Right’s follies and inadequacies – which are all too apparent to the outsider. Rather the public has been brainwashed into false beliefs by the liberal elite. Not by the Guardian directly – my employers do not sell that many copies: but indirectly through the BBC and the politically correct bureaucracy, who are all meant to dance to Alan Rusbridger’s tune.

To stop liberals duping the credulous masses, the very right-wing press, which boasted with justice in the case of the Mail, about how it stood up to Alastair Campbell and Peter Mandelson’s attempts to intimidate the media, is now encouraging the Tories to attack the Guardian and intimidate the BBC while they are about it.

Their double-standards show censorship is fine on the British Right as long as it is the Right doing the censoring. Mind you, the Left is no less duplicitous.

coogan

While I was working on this piece a media studies professor – who is still a good friend, despite everything – came to see me. As a rule, media studies professors are to working journalists what astrologers are to astronomers. They do not understand what we do and they can’t do what we do. So they seek to constrain us with their arbitrary systems.

Almost every media professor has egged on Leveson and the politicians, and called for the reintroduction of state regulation of the press – last seen in England in 1695. It is as if law professors were demanding the return of Star Chamber.

David Cameron’s attack on the Guardian infuriated my friend. The prime minister was threatening the free press, she cried.

I tried to keep the incredulity out of my voice. ‘Who let the politicians in?’ I asked with what little politeness I could muster. ‘Who opened the door and bowed as they came by?’

She genuinely thought that the state would only go after those nasty right-wing journalists when the old taboos were broken.

And in her confusion, you could see the mess liberal England has made of the very principles it is meant to defend. We now have more than 100 journalists and newspaper sources under arrest for allegedly breaking the existing law. The coercive arm of the state, has taken advantage of the indulgent climate of liberal hysteria to tell any public servant, who thinks of speaking to the press, that they will end up in the dock. Now thanks to Leveson and virtually every power-grabbing MP in Parliament, we are going to have state-sponsored press regulation as well.

To get an idea of the depth of the debacle, listen to the International Committee to Protect Journalists. It is appalled by what Britain is doing to itself and the example we are setting to dictators the world over. ‘Adopting statutory regulation would undermine press freedom in the U.K. and give legitimacy to governments around the world that routinely silence journalists through such controls.’

People who still think of themselves as liberals, try to black out the disaster they have brought by turning into the very tabloid journalists they affect to deplore. They bully and they scream. They accuse everyone who raises valid questions of being an idiot at best and a liar, fraud, hypocrite or corporate prostitute at worst.

In the Observer last Sunday Hacked Off’s Steve Coogan, showed what a debased organisation he was now associating with when he argued with David Mitchell. My colleague had written a piece saying that allegedly criminal journalists were already being prosecuted under existing law. ‘The police failure to enforce that law [previously] shouldn’t really have any bearing on the regulation of what the press is permitted to print.’ You ought to read Coogan’s reply in full, and listen to his hectoring tone above all else. You will be hearing that bullying voice many more times unless the Leveson proposals are stopped. Coogan treated Mitchell’s reasonable argument with unadulterated contempt. Mitchell had ‘come out with ill-informed and superficial dross on a serious issue’, his piece began. Coogan carried on shouting until the final paragraphs when he made the confident assertion that Mitchell had failed:

to point to a single line in the whole of Leveson or of the charter that would prevent investigative or public interest journalism. Or a single witness at Leveson arguing that it should. Or a single politician wanting to do so. Because there is none.

Let me help the new Richard Littlejohn. Like a true bureaucrat, Leveson suggested that all the police needed to be accountable in a democracy was an internal procedure for dealing with potential whistleblowers. There would no longer be a need for officers worried about corruption or abuse of power to go public. We could trust the good and caring state to deal with all legitimate grievances internally.

The Met, as we have seen, has followed up and arrested accordingly. How does Coogan think my colleagues are going to get stories from a frightened and chastised police service, or prison service, or army, navy, or airforce?

I doubt he cares. For liberal Britain has its own version of the false consciousness theory. In this instance, the left blames the failure of the masses to embrace its ideas on the malign influence of Murdoch and Dacre. If attacking freedom of the press will help their cause, they will do it. The left wants right wing journalists silenced, the right want left wing journalists silenced, and everybody wants to tell the BBC what it can and can’t broadcast.

In the United States, Fox News and the New York Times fight like cat and dog. But when James Risen, the White House correspondent of Fox News, was being threatened by the Obama administration, the New York Times and liberal journalists across America defended him steadfastly. Whatever their political differences, they believed in the greater importance of the first amendment to the American constitution.

It reads

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances

If you ever become a temporary dictator, and have the chance to enact just one law, make it a British first amendment. As each day passes, the need for it grows ever more urgent.


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  • James Allen

    “It believes that the reason why the public do not turn to it and hail
    conservatives as their champions and saviours has nothing to do with the
    Right’s follies and inadequacies – which are all too apparent to the
    outsider. Rather the public has been brainwashed into false beliefs by
    the liberal elite. Not by the Guardian directly – my employers
    do not sell that many copies: but indirectly through the BBC and the
    politically correct bureaucracy, who are all meant to dance to Alan
    Rusbridger’s tune.”

    The BBC is the ONLY source of news for my parents, and together with the Guardian, my friends. They are inevitably biased strongly in favour of the public vs private sector, liberalism vs conservatism and a mistrust of the “right-wing press”, security services and armed services etc. So, in fact, I think you misunderestimate (sic) the influence of the liberal media on the middle classes, who ultimately hold the balance of power in this country.

  • mrsjosephinehydehartley

    “..they should balance their curiosity about what Merkel is saying with the political costs of an ally discovering that America is treating her as if she were an international terrorist.”

    No, they are treating her the same as they treat everybody else, apparently.

  • vi_sa

    A very, very good article.

  • Andrew_Nichols

    The main problem with Leveson is that it failed to address the underlying cause of the problems facing the media in Britain and indeed right through the world. Shrinking ownership and the subsequent homogenisation and syndication of editorial viewpoint to fit the aims of what are increasingly hard right owners dedicated to controlling information to suit the warlike global corporate agenda. NOONE should be able to own more than one newspaper TV channel or radio station and NOONE should be able to own more than one medium at any one time. There were good reasons for such media laws we had in place till the 1980s.

    The Leveson inquiry was set up to deliberately establish a straw man of state media content regulation which everyone agrees is undesirable.

    Rather similar to the way the Conservatives and Labour conspired to clobber the proportional representation debate. Set up a laughable referendum offering a choice between two non proportional representation electoral systems. The rejection of the useless FPP alternative of course ensured the matter was quashed for a generation or longer

  • RaymondDance

    Yes, Steve Coogan is quite a frightening individual. And the idea that someone like that should be able to acquire political power as a consequence of being a moderately successful entertainer is truly scary.

  • http://mostlyprose.tumblr.com/ JRH

    Excellent piece, but I think you are a bit out in one respect. You write, towards the end, that “The left wants right wing journalists silenced, the right want left wing journalists silenced, and everybody wants to tell the BBC what it can and can’t broadcast.”

    The problem the right (thou not all of it, I happily admit) has with much of the left is not that its proponents hold opinions and put forward their world view, but that they often get taxpayers to subsidise their voice. That’s the predominant issue, and that’s why people on the right find the gentle left-liberal bias in the BBC tiresome.

  • Peter Stroud

    It’s a strange world. I seem to remember that it was the Guardian that started the whole phone tapping investigation. This led: because of Cameron’s lack of judgement: to Leveson. Which has resulted hi the Privy Council, and Hacked Off’s victory. I assume the Guardian will not be signing up to the new Royal Charter.

  • Hippograd

    If you ever become a temporary dictator, and have the chance to enact
    just one law, make it a British first amendment. As each day passes, the
    need for it grows ever more urgent.

    Yes, Nick Cohen’s an expert on free speech. He’s written a book about it. It was very positively reviewed by his comrades Denis MacShane and Anthony Julius:

    In this vigorous polemic (which everyone involved with the Leveson inquiry should read), Cohen exposes the new censorship.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2012/feb/12/cant-read-book-cohen-review/

    Cohen celebrates Milton’s Areopagitica (1644) and Mill’s On Liberty (1859). His own book stands alongside them.

    http://standpointmag.co.uk/node/4338/full

    MacShane and Julius then got involved in another battle for free speech. Fortunately, the good guys won:

    Lessons should be learned from this sorry saga. We greatly regret that the case was ever brought. At heart, it represents an impermissible attempt to achieve a political end by litigious means. It would be very unfortunate if an exercise of this sort were ever repeated… We are also troubled by the implications of the claim. Underlying it we sense a worrying disregard for pluralism, tolerance and freedom of expression.

    http://www.newleftproject.org/index.php/site/blog_comments/ucu_cleared_of_antisemitism_anthony_julius_charged_with_being_rubbish

    Who were the bad guys in this sorry saga?

    A lengthy legal battle between the University and College Union (UCU)
    and Ronnie Fraser, a college lecturer and 50 percent of pro-Israel
    pressure couple Academic Friends of Israel, has ended with a complete victory for UCU. Fraser, represented by lawyer and prominent Engage-nik Anthony Julius…

    Both gave glib evidence, appearing supremely confident of the rightness
    of their positions. For Dr MacShane, it seemed that all answers lay in
    the MacPherson Report (the effect of which he appeared to misunderstand)…

    http://www.newleftproject.org/index.php/site/blog_comments/ucu_cleared_of_antisemitism_anthony_julius_charged_with_being_rubbish

    The MacPherson report recommended making “hate speech” in private homes a crime. I suspect that Denis MacShane and Anthony Julius are not really fans of free speech. Which makes me wonder about their comrade Nick Cohen too.

  • Tom Tom

    Well Nick, let’s take the Turkish Constitution Arts 26, 27, 28,29 and The Freedom of The Press because this is how any such “Amendment” would be drafted in Modern Europe……..

    A. Freedom of the Press

    ARTICLE 28. (As amended on October 17, 2001)

    The
    press is free, and shall not be censored. The establishment of a
    printing house shall not be subject to prior permission or the deposit
    of a financial guarantee.

    The state shall take the necessary measures to ensure freedom of the press and freedom of information.

    In the limitation of freedom of the press, Articles 26 and 27 of the Constitution are applicable.

    Anyone
    who writes or prints any news or articles which threaten the internal
    or external security of the state or the indivisible integrity of the
    state with its territory and nation, which tend to incite offence, riot
    or insurrection, or which refer to classified state secrets and anyone
    who prints or transmits such news or articles to others for the above
    purposes, shall be held responsible under the law relevant to these
    offences. Distribution may be suspended as a preventive measure by the
    decision of a judge, or in the event delay is deemed prejudicial, by the
    competent authority designated by law. The authority suspending
    distribution shall notify a competent judge of its decision within
    twenty-four hours at the latest. The order suspending distribution shall
    become null and void unless upheld by a competent judge within
    forty-eight hours at the latest.

    No
    ban shall be placed on the reporting of events, except by the decision
    of judge issued to ensure proper functioning of the judiciary, within
    the limits specified by law.

    Periodical
    and non-periodical publications may be seized by a decision of a judge
    in cases of ongoing investigation or prosecution of offences prescribed
    by law, and, in situations where delay could endanger the indivisible
    integrity of the state with its territory and nation, national security,
    public order or public morals and for the prevention of offence by
    order of the competent authority designated by law. The authority
    issuing the order to confiscate shall notify a competent judge of its
    decision within twenty-four hours at the latest. The order to confiscate
    shall become null and void unless upheld by the competent court within
    forty-eight hours at the latest.

    The
    general common provisions shall apply when seizure and confiscation of
    periodicals and non-periodicals for reasons of criminal investigation
    and prosecution takes place.

    Periodicals
    published in Turkey may be temporarily suspended by court sentence if
    found to contain material which contravenes the indivisible integrity of
    the state with its territory and nation, the fundamental principles of
    the Republic, national security and public morals. Any publication which
    clearly bears the characteristics of being a continuation of a
    suspended periodical is prohibited; and shall be seized following a
    decision by a competent judge.

    B. Right to Publish Periodicals and Non-periodicals

    ARTICLE 29.
    Publication of periodicals or non-periodicals shall not be subject to
    prior authorisation or the deposit of a financial guarantee.”

    It gets you nowhere because just as the ECHR permits the State to override protections on National Security grounds which the US First Amendment also permitted ssee Schenck v United States.

    The Press in the US is NOT free. JP Morgan bribed journalists in 1917 to urge US entry into the war to protect its loans to Britain….today it kow-tows on National Security grounds and is fully compromised by NSA interception. See what Aaron Schwartz was working on for The New Yorker to protect journalists before he was “suicided”

  • robheggie1

    another great article nick

  • rogerhicks

    It is time we recognised the Left/Right divide as the false (and fatal) dicotymy it is, which divides society, indeed, our entire civilisation, and will ensure its fall.

    This, however, requires recognition and understanding of The Perverted Darwinian Nature of the State and Civilisation itself, which in turn requires us putting aside the taboos against viewing human society from a human-evolutionary, i.e. Darwinian, perspective.

  • george

    Is The Coogan auditioning for a Harry Petter flick, or what?

  • http://www.angryharry.com/ Angry Harry

    “Juries acquit guilty men because prosecutors cannot reveal the full case against them.”

    Juries also convict innocent men because the defence cannot see the exonerating evidence.

    So, balance please, Nick.

  • andagain

    the Guardian’s enemies are suffering from an advanced case of what Orwell called ‘transferred nationalism’: though nominally British they have transferred their loyalty to the United States, and react to any threat to American interests as if it were a threat their own.

    Not really. They would support the UK over the US if they came into conflict. But many people do feel a degree of loyalty towards their friends and allies. It is not that uncommon.

    Of course, they may also feel that after the Guardian has done its best to get someone to kick them in the head, they are not going to help it if it gets into trouble itself.

    • David Lindsay

      They would support the UK over the US if they came into conflict.

      No, they wouldn’t. Taking a broad definition of conflict, they already don’t.

      And they would fight for America in a war against Britain. Or for Israel is a war against either.

      Nick Cohen is breaking with his foreign policy allies over the last decade. Not a moment too soon.

      • andagain

        Taking a broad definition of conflict, they already don’t

        You know, that kind of assertion looks so much more convincing when you give an actual example, rather than a blind unsupported claim.

        • David Lindsay

          Their support for what we now know to have been the actions of the NSA, for a start.

          Support for military intervention in Syria was another recent example.

          • andagain

            I see. They must be traitors because they support things you disapprove of.

            • David Lindsay

              No, that’s their line. Cohen used to use it all the time. But he seems to be breaking with them now. Jolly good.

  • nonperson

    That’s one comedic actor who should have remained subsumed by his most well-known creation. The character called ‘Steve Coogan’ turns out to be a right twonk.

  • Jackthesmilingblack

    Can`t help noticing my comment calling attention to Spectator`s non-coverage of the on-going NSA story has been deleted. You only attract flak when you`re over the target.

  • Jackthesmilingblack

    “The international scoop was that America’s National Security Agency tapped Angela Merkel’s mobile phone (along with the phones of many more world leaders).”
    And not just Angela Merkel; some 35 world leaders have had their phones tapped by those nosey NSA bastards. Not that you`d know it by reading the Spectator. It`s only been BBC`s lead for the past five days. Only obeying orders, right?

  • Jackthesmilingblack

    NSA: From hero to zero.

    • tastemylogos

      youre like a fcking parrot. are you paid for this sh!t?

      • Toby Esterházy

        Either that, or Autism with severe OCD.

  • zanzamander

    I think you mean James Rosen. I believe they even spied on his parents!

  • Barbara Miller

    And isn’t it surprising that the PM said pretty much the same about his private screening of “The Fifth Estate” – a much-maligned film about WikiLeaks?

  • NealK

    Fantastic piece. We Americans are agog at the damage Britain is about to do to itself. But it’s your country and your liberty. Your problem, your issue, your funeral.

    P.S. James Rosen, not James Risen (another US journalist) was the Fox News reporter targeted and bugged by the Obama administration.

    • James Allen

      That’s a bit rich. Press briefings given selectively to favoured journalists, leaks etc….. plenty of ways the authorities get around protections to the free press. It happens everywhere. Freedom is not a set of rules, it’s a manifestation of the spirit.

  • Tom Tom

    What good is the First Amendment in the USA ? It has been by-passed by FISA. Glenn Greenwald is in Brazil because the First Amendment did not protect Michael Hastings from “Boston brakes” in his brand-new Mercedes……….

    http://aconservativeedge.wordpress.com/2013/07/17/michael-hastings-in-the-hastings-hijack-or-boston-brakes-story-getting-scary/

    • Tom Tom

      “Boston Brakes” in the case of Michael Hastings whose last story was “Why Democrats Love To Spy On Americans”, and uncovered a lot of stories yet this execution makes Nick Cohen look featherweight hiding behind a piece of paper that is increasingly irrelevant in the modern world. No Amendment stops a journalist being executed

  • Suspended Disbelief

    Leveson doesn’t call for the abolition of the public interest defence. Leveson is about providing an alternative mechanism for ordinary members of the public to get accountability for press abuse of power, to complement the existing system of judicial oversight that is only accessible to the super-rich.

    The press should be free for the health of a democracy – hence we give journalists a significant degree of legal leeway in their work that ordinary members of the public in their ordinary lives do not enjoy; but a healthy democracy also requires that abuse of power – regardless of who is the abuser – be made accountable. The existing court-based system excludes the vast majority of the public, making British democracy unresponsive and unjust.

    If you want to avoid Leveson, why don’t you advocate taking civil action against media organisations free. I have yet to hear your suggestions for how to make the press accountable. Or perhaps you think the existing state of affairs is fine? Perhaps we should just allow a principle component of democracy continue to distort the democratic process through bad practice and a culture of impunity against the disenfranchised?

    Your analysis of Leveson’s recommendations is remarkably shallow. This is not the kind of press regulation you are making it out to be. Stop muddying the water.

    • FrenchNewsonlin

      There can be no conditions on press freedom. Its an all or nothing situation and the true surprise is the number of Brits who seemingly bend so abjectly to the Leveson farrago. Stand up for freedom of the press or lose your right to free expression in all shape and form. It really is that simple. Time for those who value democracy to become freedom of speech fundamentalists. Nick Cohen’s piece is exemplary.

      • Suspended Disbelief

        You have a pretty perverse understanding of what democracy requires or entails … no doubt you are American.

        Democracy doesn’t exist to protect freedom of expression; freedom of expression protects against abuse of power to ensure the health of a democracy.

        When privately owned and democratically unaccountable corporate media organisations use free speech to distort and destroy the lives of ordinary and disempowered citizens, indeed when those media organisations threaten the health of our democracy (as a significant amount of research indicates it has done in the Anglophone world), it is absurd to claim democracy requires their abuse of power be immune from accountability.

        That is not how any sane democrat would want their society to function. That is not democracy at all; that is a tyranny by an unelected ideological elite.

        • FrenchNewsonlin

          Colonel Mustard of these parts has the appropriate response to your pitiful support for the Hacked Off harridans: “Freedom is the birthright of every Englishman and an unruly press free to outrage and provoke is the cornerstone of that freedom. It is not something to be earned or granted by the likes of you and your comrades.”

          • Suspended Disbelief

            You’re quaint reference belies your unsophisticated understanding of what freedom entails.

            Of course, in your view, we ordinary citizens should only be feee from abuse of power by elected or unelected public-sector workers. When our freedom is destroyed by those who wield unequalled private wealth, influence and power …. that’s perfectly fine.

  • Terence Hale

    Hi,
    British journalists lock each other up and throw away the key. If I may comment in my bad English as reported by one of your readers in a personal attack of a “one divided by zero” type. Politician need to adapt to the changes in communication and the digital world with transparency and accountancy. The world of the “one divided by zero” are over. A magazine as yours and more so with newspapers have problems with the digital world where in a day the discussion on news replace the news. That the Queensberry rules of journalism are respected by demands of readers and Mr. Cameron is a culture of respect.

  • http://www.frankfisher.org Frank Fisher

    The problem in the UK is that the NGOs and pressure groups (eg, Liberty, Index on Censorship) who should be defending free speech – who are indeed paid to defend free speech – in fact actively support censorship and the criminalisation of ‘hate speech’. Our culture is now one in which there is an *expectation* of censorship. You people in particular expect it. They think causing offence is a crime – they really do.

    • Blazeaway

      The sad thing is, causing offence IS now a crime.

      Hate speech legislation, ‘inspired’ by McPherson, gives you no defence if no actual offence or threat was caused. It is self-defining, so that if someone says they were offended then they were offended. Ipso facto that is that.

      It also applies to third parties ‘overhearing’ anything they felt was hateful.
      Neither the truth, nor intent, is a defence. The concept of ‘guilty mind’, supreme in common law, has been removed.

      Our ignorant young are – amazingly – correct.

      This has to be talked about in public, but our politicians are either tyro tyrants or they are too afraid of being branded racist to even discuss these matters.

    • FrenchNewsonlin

      Well said. “Hate speech” is one of the more pernicious atrocities promulgated by the cultural Marxists.

  • Ripple

    Cohen remains under the delusion that there is such a thing as an active or even existent ‘British Right’. Janet Daley is the closest thing you’ve got and she is a classical liberal. You should all be thrilled about that. And Cohen should test his own assumption that the press, while being free, should also compromise the citizens it claims to be in business for by exposing what are rightly national secrets.

    • David Lindsay

      Not our national secrets.

      • george

        All right then, mine. Either way: I want the press to stand UP for democracy and not deeply to undermine it.

  • Blazeaway

    Excellent article Nick.

    So few people will stand up for freedom of speech and free assembly. If you argue for it you are insulted and misrepresented. The British public are entirely uninterested.

    It truly baffles me. Values which were once unchallengeable and which would have had people standing up to defend are now just left to a handful of enthusiasts.

    Where is Liberty (formerly the National Council for Civil Liberties) in all this? Where is the NUJ?

    There is not a single party that will stand up against all these attempts to stamp out free expression (and I mean al the ‘hate speech’ shenanigans and ‘third party’ complaints as well as Leveson).

    I only hope that UKIP will put these liberal values (liberal in the true sense of the word, not the Guardian bastardisation we now see) to the forefront and announce it will support a First Amendment-type law.

    Will someone set up a press freedom campaign? I don’t have the time (yes I know) but I will support it in every way I can if someone does. It seems that the only people with time to actually do things these days are paid lobbyists – and we supporters of liberty don’t have the money.

    Come on UKIP, be our voice.

  • sfefssdadsd

    “How does Coogan think my colleagues are going to get stories from a
    frightened and chastised police service, or prison service, or army,
    navy, or airforce?” – by protecting sources properly and not actively inducing them to break the law? just a thought.

  • Not Fred Titmus

    Even if you were to enact your dictator-for-a-day law, it would not be binding on any subsequent illiberal parliament.

    There’s a lot to be said for a written constitution, although the US one has been manipulated by an activist judiciary to one that – first amendment apart – would be unrecognisable to its framers.

  • Bob Thomas

    It is heartening to see a “man of the left” arguing in favour of freedom of the press and other associated liberties.

    All three of the main political parties are unelectable IMHO simply on the basis of the way in which they have lined up against the free press and (by proxy) our right to freedom of speech.

    In passing, it would be no good passing the First Amendment into British law – no Parliament can bind its successor and all that. It would have to be part of a Constitution recognising the inalienable rights of the English, Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish peoples.

  • sfefssdadsd

    incredibly funny to see Nick ‘anyone who opposed the Iraq war supported Saddam Hussein’ Cohen having a go at someone else for ‘shouting’ in a written piece and ‘holding reasonable arguments in contempt’. And on Twitter having a go at Hacked off for calling their opponents hypocrites.

    Et tu Nick – all they’ve done is nicked your standard column template.

    • Not Fred Titmus

      What you are ignoring is the massive difference between arguing with your political opponents, and criminalising them.

    • S&A

      Incredibly funny to see how you not only don’t understand how people argue the case, but that you’ve spectacularly missed the point of this article.

  • zanzamander

    This is what happens when journalists, newspapers start taking sides with political parties. In the US, majority of media have now effectively become part of the Obama administration where critical stories of the government are buried and every effort is made to shield Obama.

    Majority of the media in the world is now run by people and groups who are on the Left. Majority of the countries (bar those in the Islamic world) are now run by Lefties. The world we’re now living in resembles a softer Communism – a world where our rulers believe everything they do is for the good of the world and all their opponents are evil who must be stamped out – even spying on and harassing their own citizens.

    A paranoid world.

  • David Prentice

    I, for one, welcome our new press overlords.

  • Jackthesmilingblack

    So is it open season on journalists? Can anyone join, or is it “closed to club”?

  • David Lindsay

    That criticism persists shows that the Guardian’s enemies are suffering from an advanced case of what Orwell called “transferred nationalism”: though nominally British they have transferred their loyalty to the United States, and react to any threat to American interests as if it were a threat their own.

    I have always liked you, really.

    We now know that, while the NSA has been listening to 130 million people in France and Spain, it has not been listening to David Cameron. Says it all, really.

    And notice that the strongest opponents of Leveson, for all the difference that it would make, are the strongest supporters of the NSA. They vilify our sovereign Parliament. They ridicule our “Medieval” Privy Council (which it is not). Their loyalty is elsewhere.

    But you are also doing it, with your call for “a British First Amendment”. Amendment to what, exactly?

    • tastemylogos

      aaaaaaaah, lindsey luv.

  • elainedecoulos

    I see your point, but I believe what the Guardian published would be illegal in the US because the data was stolen, despite it being government data. And there is no public interest defence in America, so the 1st Amendment actually doesn’t help in this instance. The US press is not as free as everyone in Britain thinks it is. Most US libel law is a hangover of British libel law. The 1st Amendment does not allow the US press to publish lies or stolen data.

    It is likely the US is pressuring Cameron on this and want him to go after the Guardian. Look at the diplomatic mess it has caused the past few days.

    As for Dacre, he’s just a typical aggressive unprincipled opportunist trying to get pally with the Government ahead of any royal charter being signed, sealed and delivered. That is the essence of what is wrong with the British tabloid press. They have no principles and no scruples. It is survival of the fitness, Darwinian style. Forget any notion of democratic values that began in Britain and created America. This is obviously what needs reforming and in my honest opinion, it pervades British society and the legal system and the press in particular. Nasty sums it up.

    Despite being a victim of the press, I agree with you ‘in principle’ on Hacked Off, though I haven’t yet read Steve Coogan’s piece. The last paragraph you cite doesn’t seem so bad. It’s some of the other stuff they do. They also lack principles and scruples, despite their ‘we represent the victim’ image. They picked and chose the victims they wanted to represent and excluded many others, such as myself.

    • dw

      I believe what the Guardian published would be illegal in the US because the data was stolen

      The same material has been published in the US, by the Washington Post and New York Times, among others. There has been no suggestion that anyone is going to be prosecuted for breaking some imaginary law against “publishing stolen government data”. Have you ever heard of the Pentagon Papers?

      • bootsyjam

        What if the law that’s being broken is blatantly wrong?
        How about corporates who avoid tax but are acting within the law? Do you think that lawmaking bodies, that are controlled by politicians, might be just a tad compromised?

      • elainedecoulos

        My apologies. I am obviously aware of the case you cite involving the infamous Pentagon Papers,but likely not as familiar as you. It appears I may have got it wrong. However, I heard some views expressed on CNN that the Snowden case may not be viewed in the same light as the Pentagon Papers. It’s a complex legal argument and the case you cite does not completely resolve the matter.

        I copied and pasted this from the Wiki link you posted:

        In a 6-3 decision, the Supreme Court agreed with the two lower courts
        which had originally decided that the government had not met its “heavy
        burden” of showing a justification for a prior restraint. The Court
        issued a very brief per curiam
        opinion, stating only that the Court concurred with the decisions of
        the two lower courts to reject the Government’s request for an
        injunction.[5]

        The Justices’ opinions included different degrees of support for the clear superiority
        of the First Amendment and no Justice fully supported the government’s
        case. Because of these factors, no clear and exclusive verdict appears
        to have come out of this case. Nevertheless, the significance of the
        case and the wording of the Justices’ opinions have added important
        statements to the history of precedents for exceptions to the First
        Amendment, which have been cited in numerous Supreme Court cases since.

        I am not a lawyer, let alone a 1st Amendment one, but eyebrows have been raised in the US over what the Guardian has published.

  • http://twitter.com/MisGrace Julieann Carter

    A very thought provoking article and where I agree that we do urgently need a version of the 1st Amendment.
    I disagree that Richard Littllejohn is comparable with Steve Coogan. One might not like what he says, but he uses laid-back satire and not a shouty, bullying tone. In other words, he is funny and outrageous (and not to be taken too seriously) whereas Coogan is clearly enraged and quite intimidating.
    I also strongly disagree that the Liberal Left has only resorted to such tactics since Leveson.
    Quite frankly, I am shocked by that assertion. I certainly have felt oppressed by the Liberal Left since shortly after 1997. Who made the first and then sustained attack on free speech with the introduction of hate crimes?

    • dw

      “Funny and outrageous”? I’m sure Lucy Meadows is laughing her head off.

  • Paul Frame

    It’s a shame that such a good article about the need for freedom of speech fails to point out that freedom of speech doesn’t exist in isolation. It has to be paid for by allowing as broad an access to justice as possible. The assault on legal aid has hurt the cause of free speech just as much as the campaign against journalists or the proposed royal charter.

    In addition to freedom of speech and access to justice one needs a freedom of assembly too. Yes most of the time it will seem like the protests are frivolous and not representative, but they are a right and should be defended.

    So right wing commentators: Free speech means having to lump legal aid and it will come out of your pocket.
    Left wing commentators: Free speech means having to defend Murdoch and the barons.
    Politicians: Wanting people’s votes mean that from time-to-time you have to be inconvenienced by the noise and palaver coming from a demonstration outside and inside of your place of debate.

    I hope that political discourse in this country becomes about this, just as much as it focuses on the economy or what the government should or shouldn’t spend and when it should or shouldn’t spend it. I hope that the citizenry of the UK see the need for what freedoms we should have and what the cost of these freedoms will mean. I really hope that people will see what’s wrong with party politics and either start a new party or join in with the one they like the most and try and fix things from the inside.

    Enshrined freedom of speech such as is represented by the 1st amendment in the USA (and in the universal declaration of human rights) is the foundation stone towards building a democratic society, not the the capstone some think it is.

  • Shoe On Head

    dead-on.

    in moments like this we should rise above partisan punditry and churnalism.

    *bumps into cute girl while typing on calculator* oops! got a bit carried away inventorying my lizards *makes sure she sees the 99999999999*

    (shoe on head)

  • Dan Reed

    “The left wants right wing journalists silenced, the right want left wing journalists silenced”.

    True, but the Left started it, and wants it so much more. And Coogan/Grant are now their perfect frontmen…celebrity automatons

    • Fergus Pickering

      It doesn’t matter who started it, children.Your common enemy is the State.

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