Sunday, October 03, 2010

Suppressing freedom to preserve democracy

The editor of a Finnish weekly is alarmed by the Swedish left’s desire to censor the right-wing Sweden Democrats

‘The forces of darkness are holding Swedish democracy hostage.’

That was how the Swedish daily Expressen described the ascent of the right-wing, immigration-concerned Sweden Democrats party to parliament in the elections on 19 September. This ‘threat to democracy’ gained just short of six per cent of the vote across Sweden and 20 seats in the 349-seat parliament.

Amazingly enough, this was not the most dramatic example of hyperbole. Words like ‘racists’, ‘fascists’ and ‘loonies’ were freely bandied about in the Swedish press to describe the Sweden Democrats and their supporters.

The press had made its views clear well before the election took place. Practically every major newspaper in Sweden took the unprecedented step of refusing to take advertising from this party that allegedly threatens democracy.

The press thus decided to protect Swedish democracy by suppressing free speech. On cue, all parliamentary parties have stated that they will not cooperate with the Sweden Democrats.

While there is no question that a considerable portion of the people who support the Sweden Democrats party – which was founded in 1988 and which describes itself as a ‘nationalist movement’ – are xenophobic, and some are probably racist, the official views of the party are well within the range of normal democratic debate.

So the party states on its website that Swedish immigration policy should take its cue from Denmark and Finland. These two countries are unlikely examples of neo-fascist wannabes.

So why all the fuss? The social-democratic paper Västerbottens Folkblad encapsulated the real offence of the Sweden Democrats in a recent editorial, where it stated: ‘What on Earth do the people who voted for them want?’

Sweden has a long and proud history of political participation. More than 80 per cent of the electorate routinely votes in parliamentary elections. The notable exception to this has been the far right, which has been both demonised and marginalised in Swedish society.

Countless TV-news exposés have given the impression of vast neo-Nazi conspiracies intent on taking over the Scandinavian welfare state. That, at best, these far-right groups can organise a rally of 100 to 200 beer-drinking skinheads has never prevented journalists from painting them as an imminent threat to Swedish democracy.

Now that some of these yobs, who are a small minority in the Sweden Democrats party, have cleaned up their act, the same people who deplored their extra-parliamentary activities heap scorn on them for participating in the parliamentary process.

Never mind that their views are now exposed to public, critical debate, or that their party has publicly disassociated itself from racism. It is interesting to note that the same society that will bend over backwards to include extreme views on the other side of the cultural debate – namely militant imams – refuses to talk to the radicalised section of the indigenous population.

In an open democracy, the powers-that-be should welcome the chance to engage extremist views in open debate. Especially when those views do not breach Sweden’s strict hate speech laws. Yet it seems that the Swedish press would prefer that the grievances of the Sweden Democrats be met with batons instead of ballots.

The problem for Swedish democracy appears to be, not that some people are left in the margins, but that they have tried to be included.


A Look At The Technologies & Industries Senators Leahy & Hatch Would Have Banned In The Past

The more I look at the "Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act," (COICA) bill proposed by Senators Patrick Leahy and Orrin Hatch (and co-sponsored by Sens. Herb Kohl, Arlen Specter, Charles Schumer, Dick Durbin, Sheldon Whitehouse, Amy Klobuchar, Evan Bayh and George Voinovich) the worse it looks. The idea behind the bill is to give the Justice Department the ability to avoid due process in shutting down or blocking access to sites deemed "dedicated to infringing activities."

With such a broad definition of offerings dedicated to infringing activities, I thought it might be worth running through a list of technologies that and services that were all deemed "dedicated to infringing activities" in their early days, to give you a sense of what these Senators would have banned in the past with such a law:

* Hollywood itself: The history of Hollywood is that it was set up on the west coast in order to avoid Thomas Edison's attempt to control the movie making business with various patents. Hollywood was very much an entire industry dedicated to infringing activities in its early years.

* The recording industry: The origins of modern copyright law in the US came out of fears by musicians that the concept of any kind of automatic playing or "recorded" music would destroy the market for real live musicians. The fear of the player piano was a big, big issue in the early days, with sheet music producers claiming that piano rolls were infringing. So, the early parts of the recording industry were very much "dedicated to infringing activities."

* Radio: When radio first came about, it too was "dedicated to infringing activities." That's because it played music on the radio without paying.

* Cable TV: The very early days of cable TV involved the cable companies offering network television without paying for -- and, even worse, they were charging customers for access to others' content. The very core of the original cable TV system was "dedicated to infringing activities." Charlton Heston denounced cable as "depriving actors of compensation."

* Photocopying machines: When the Xerox machine came on the scene in the late 1950s, it freaked out the publishing industry who denounced it as being dedicated to infringing activities. Just as the 1909 Copyright Act was mainly a response to misguided fears of the player piano, some say the 1976 Copyright Act was in response to the Xerox machine. Some of the modern concepts around fair use came about due to lawsuits from publishers claiming that the photocopier was, in fact, dedicated to infringing activities.

* The VCR: By this point, you should know the famous Jack Valenti quote: "I say to you that the VCR is to the American film producer and the American public as the Boston strangler is to the woman home alone." Yup. Dedicated to infringing activity.

* Cassette tapes: "Home taping is killing music." Need I say more?

* The MP3 player: Remember the RIAA's lawsuit against the Diamond Rio? They declared that such a device "stymies the market for . . . works and frustrates the development of legitimate digitally downloadable music." So, that iPod? Yes, it, too, was dedicated to infringing activity.

* The DVR: In 2001, a bunch of TV companies sued, claiming that the Replay TV DVR was an "unlawful scheme" that "attacks the fundamental economic underpinnings of free television and basic nonbroadcast services"

Notice a pattern yet? All sorts of new technologies tend to be berated and condemned as "dedicated to infringing activity," by legacy content industries when those new offerings first come along. It's only later on, when the industry learns to use those new tools of creating, recording, reproducing, performing, distributing, sharing and promoting that they realize those tools turned out to be quite useful in expanding, rather than shrinking, the industry.

Yet, here we are, with the list of Senators above, effectively looking to not allow that evolution to happen at all. They won't even give these new tools a fair trial (which, at the very least, was afforded to many of the tools in this list). Instead, they want to let the Justice Department (which, again, employs many former lawyers of the legacy industries) to simply put together a list of tools they believe infringe and to avoid due process in getting those tools effectively banned. The people making this list are not visionaries. They don't see how these tools can be quite useful to content creators. They're anti-visionaries. They only see how the new tools change the rules for the legacy industry. Do we really want anti-visionaries outlawing the next movie industry? Or the next VCR? Or the next iPod?


At last! An end to Britain's "elf 'n' safety" madness as meddling officials face fines if they ban events

Meddling officials who attempt to ban events or activities on the grounds that they breach red tape will themselves be threatened with huge fines under Government plans.

And emergency workers, teachers and office workers are to be freed from the compensation culture where someone must be held to account for everyday mishaps and accidents.

Margaret Thatcher’s former trade secretary Lord Young, who has drawn up a string of proposals accepted by David Cameron, says a decade of Labour laws and regulations will now be torn up.

The assault on the excesses of the health and safety culture will form a key part of the Tory Party conference which begins tomorrow in Birmingham, and is seen as a potential vote winner.

In an interview with the Daily Mail, Lord Young unveiled plans which include:

* Local authorities who wrongly try to block events on health and safety grounds will be forced to pay large-scale compensation;

* No-win, no-fee advertising encouraging personal injury claims will face a major crackdown;

* Red tape that means many children never go on school outings is to be scrapped

* People performing first aid or Good Samaritan acts are to be exempted from being sued.

Lord Young, 78, said ‘petty tyrants’ had been allowed to flourish under Labour.

He said he had uncovered extraordinary examples, including a restaurant that would not give out toothpicks for fear of injury, a headteacher who told pupils not to walk under a conker tree without helmets and a council that banned a pancake race because it was raining.

‘It makes you wonder what sort of world we have come to,’ Lord Young said. ‘It has gone to such extremes. What I have seen everywhere is a complete lack of common sense. People have been living in an alternative universe.’

Lord Young said he was particularly concerned about council officials who often claimed powers to stop village fetes, sporting events or other events when they have none. In one example, organisers of the annual Whitsun cheese-rolling down a steep hill in the Cotswolds cancelled it this year after pressure from police and local authorities.

In future those affected by wrong decisions may go to the local government ombudsman who will be able to insist that a council pays compensation.

Asked how much local authorities would be forced to pay, Lord Young said: ‘Whatever the loss is. I want officials to think twice and make sure they have the authority. ‘This sort of nonsense has come from the last government trying to create a nanny state and trying to keep everybody in cotton wool.

‘Frankly if I want to do something stupid and break my leg or neck, that’s up to me. I don’t need a council to tell me not to be an idiot. I can be an idiot all by myself.’

He said the Government, which has approved his report, due to be published later this month, would also implement a crackdown on ‘ambulance-chasing’ personal injury firms. There will be restrictions on the way they advertise their services and a limit to speculative law suits.

‘The last government allowed no-win, no-fee advertising and we have seen an enormous rush of it, on afternoon TV particularly,’ Lord Young said. ‘A lot of them aren’t lawyers - they’re claims management companies. ‘People are being paid for making a claim. Legal expenses are now two or three times the claim. The biggest cost to the health service is legal fees. That’s going to stop.’

Schools are to be freed from burdensome regulations. Lord Young said: ‘Schools are not allowing pupils to go on days out because they are scared they will be liable if an accident happens. ‘That’s nonsense, and that’s not going to continue, unless a teacher is really negligent. In the ordinary course of events, accidents happen.’

The Health and Safety Executive enforces 202 primary regulations, a third of which were passed since Labour came to power in 1997.

Lord Young, who has an office in Downing Street, revealed that the Prime Minister has asked him to stay on to advise on turning public services into locally-owned co-operatives. Baroness Thatcher once said of him: ‘Other people brought me problems. He brought me solutions.’


Australia: The right to freedom of speech is being threatened in the courtroom

Andrew Bolt is getting sued. Don't applaud yet. There's been a lot of outrage about the federal government's proposed internet filter. But lawsuits like the one now faced by the prominent conservative Herald Sun columnist are as much a restriction on freedom of speech as anything Communications Minister Stephen Conroy has come up with.

Nine people are suing Bolt for an article that claimed their Aboriginal self-identification was "fashionable". He had said they all had part-European, part-indigenous heritage (and fair skin) with an opportunity to describe themselves as a range of nationalities. But, he wrote, they chose to describe themselves as Aboriginal. Doing so gave them "political and career clout".

At worst, Bolt is deliberately and provocatively disrespectful.

But as their lawyer has pointed out, there are two tests of whether someone is Aboriginal. The first is an objective genealogical test: a fairly clear cut question of whether they have Aboriginal ancestors. The second is subjective: whether a person chooses to self-identify as indigenous, and whether they are "communally" regarded as such.

Bolt's columns criticised political appointments and government awards that pivot on an individual's Aboriginality. They're absolutely within their rights to apply for those grants, prizes and positions. But like it or not, by sponsoring things like indigenous-specific art and literary awards, the government makes what constitutes Aboriginality a political question.

And it's a question academics have been trying to unpack for decades. Universities teach courses in the "concept of Aboriginality". Surveying the literature in 2002, the Parliamentary Library could only conclude "an individual's ethnic identity is always to some degree fluid, multiple, differing in degrees, and constructed".

Of course, Bolt tackles the issue with trademark belligerence. The merits of his argument will now be tested in court. But put aside the conservative commentator. This isn't about the collected works and opinions of Andrew Bolt. And put aside the complexities of racial identity, Aboriginality and reconciliation.

This case is troubling because of what it says about our right to freedom of speech. If successful - or just really expensive to defend - this lawsuit could have a stifling effect on political debate.

The 19th century philosopher John Stuart Mill argued that only by airing contested views publicly and freely could the truth be known. Societies need free speech if only to test and challenge controversial opinions.

And we're not going to have those necessary debates while legal action stifles one side. No matter how wrong or misguided that side may be.

Silencing Bolt doesn't just silence him. It potentially silences the speech of others who might be afraid of being similarly dragged through the legal system.

After all, Bolt and his employer can afford to defend themselves. No doubt they have lawyers on call. Newspapers know their way around court.

By contrast, bloggers, amateur journalists, Twitterers and Facebookers commenting on sensitive political issues - for whatever reason, with whatever motives - are much more exposed to punitive legal action than newspaper columnists are.

Should only the rich be able to have controversial views? If anything is going to suffocate the blossoming citizen media, it will be lawyers.

Bolt is being challenged under the federal government's Racial Discrimination Act. But that's hardly the only law on the books that has a damaging impact on free speech. Our politicians have a long and shameful history of using Australia's defamation laws to sue their critics - threatening someone with a defamation suit is a public relations tactic.

In Victoria, our Racial and Religious Tolerance Act, introduced in 2001, has been co-opted as a stick for religious groups to hit each other.

First, the Islamic Council of Victoria took the fundamentalist Christian Catch the Fire Ministries to court. Then a Wiccan prison inmate took the Salvation Army to court. Then the Australia-Israel Jewish Affairs Council threatened to take the Islamic Information and Services Network of Australasia to court. That's a shabby record for a law supposed to promote tolerance, not division.

Suppressing offensive views can be counterproductive. The churches and mosques targeted by the Victorian Racial and Religious Tolerance Act were able to say their beliefs were being persecuted - attracting more followers. The victimised dissident is a hero, not a villain.

To his credit, Bolt is a prominent critic of Victoria's vilification laws. Last year, the Human Rights Consultation Committee faced the task of recommending what should appear in an Australian bill of rights. It struggled to balance our right to free speech with a new "right" demanded by some - the right to not be offended by the speech of others.

But there are an infinite number of ways people could be offended. How could we possibly prevent all outrage? You can have the right to free speech, or you can have the right to be protected by the government from the offensive speech of others. You can't have both.

There are other ways to respond to distasteful views. Refuse to buy the Herald Sun. Tell your friends to do the same. Condemn it in other opinion columns. The solution to bad speech is more speech. If something is offensive, it deserves to be condemned, loudly and often.

This week saw the first Aboriginal member of the federal House of Representatives sit in Parliament. Ken Wyatt is a Liberal. He promised to advocate for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Parliament. His mother was [allegedly] one of the stolen generations. In his maiden speech, Wyatt thanked Kevin Rudd for the 2008 apology.

That's a genuine step towards reconciliation. Wielding the legal system as a weapon to try to silence critics isn't - no matter how offensive they might be.



Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.

American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.

For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN (Note that EYE ON BRITAIN has regular posts on the reality of socialized medicine). My Home Pages are here or here or here or Email me (John Ray) here. For readers in China or for times when is playing up, there is a mirror of this site here.


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