Freedom of speech discussion in many online fora seems to end up polarised around individual rights but rarely responsibilities. Some people feel that the concept of freedom of speech allows them to write all kinds of offensive claptrap, yet feel aggrieved when people identify that they do find it offensive. This weekend there is an article on Comment is Free, by Catherine Bennett, discussing the various responses to reports that Rod Liddle may be in the running to be the editor of the Independent. I’ve seen a wide range of views on that, some valid, some specious but all as legitimate for the individual to hold as any other. This article typifies that; Rod Liddle has as much right to say what he wants as anyone else so everyone else should shut up and leave him alone.
We each have the right to freedom of expression, but equally we have the right to challenge anyone else. Freedom has to come with responsibility, our actions have consequences and we need to be able to take responsibility for our own actions. Whilst Liddle has a right to his own views, and to transmit them, others have the right to challenge him for them. What happened recently was Charlotte Gore looking into the evidence and exposing his writing as unsubstantiated prejudice. Bennett seems to take the view that she shouldn’t have dared point out the fact that his writing was unsupported by the evidence.
I take the general view that censorship does little to combat offensive views, it takes them underground and cultivates a culture of simmering resentment. Exposing ideas to debate allows them to be countered and challenged. As a result of that some may alter their position, others will not.
Liddle may be offensive, but I’d rather that he be allowed to express his view, and others be allowed to challenge that. I don’t believe that he should be censored, or those that criticize him be censored. However his views, and behaviours will have consequences. Some may revel in their reputation for being offensive, as Liddle appears to do, they’re perfectly at liberty to do so, some are equally at liberty to treat that with contempt.
Who knows what the consequences of his views expressed on the Milwall FC site, discussed on Liberal Conspiracy will be? Is he going to take responsibility or not? If these posts were made in his own time should his employer have a view, and should any action be taken? Personally I don’t think so, but a good old spat about it is good marketing, and damn the consequences.
Freedom of speech isn’t about freedom, it’s about taking responsibility, something that’s pretty unfashionable at the moment.
For what it’s worth, I don’t think he’d be good for the Independent, but if the ongoing sale happens will the new owners want it to maintain its current position in the market anyway?