Freedom of Speech?
What’s that then?
Voltaire (1694-1778), the French writer and historian once said, ‘I may not agree with you, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.’
More recently Noam Chomsky, linguist, philosopher and activist said, ‘If we don’t believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don’t believe in it at all.’
So do we or don’t we believe in freedom of speech? When does, or when should, someone’s speech, or writing, or expression in any way, become a criminal act?
Or, to put it another way, when is censorship the only way forward?
I digress – in November this year Jamie Counsel, 25, was sentenced to 4 years imprisonment for setting up a Facebook page called ‘Bring the Riots to Cardiff’, later changed to ‘Bring the Riots to Swansea’ – he didn’t partake in any of that nasty rioting himself – he merely told the police when and where this particular piece of criminality was going to take place. I know I’m being flippant here but did the actual rioters use Mr Counsel’s, er, counsel as mitigation for their dastardly deeds?
It was, after all, them wot rioted.
Which, of course, brings us to the right honourable Jeremy Clarkson… How many of you saw The One Show in which he suggested the slaughter of the strikers and that trains shouldn’t stop because of bodies on the track? I, like many of you fine people, enjoy making my own mind up about a certain event, statement, action… so I went searching for this infamous interaction between Clarkson, Baker and Jones on the interweb. It has been removed from the BBC’s own iplayer archive – even the wonderful youtube only has a snippet of his terrible words, and not the preamble that lead up to it.
If, like me, you’re nerdily persistent enough, you’ll have found the transcript of what exactly happened here
To me this felt like a very odd kind of censorship – the witty interchange is hidden from those who can’t be arsed looking for it – and one that lacked the languid delivery of Mr Top Gear.
So what are your thoughts? Do you see that, as some of the thousands who complained to the BBC, Clarkson’s behaviour was every bit as heinous as Mr Counsel’s, and that he too should be wending his way to a small room for four years at Her Majesty’s Pleasure?
On the very same day our great leader David Cameron, stated that striking was ‘futile’ – or was that Emperor Ming the Merciless (Flash Gordon – ask your parents)?
I’m sure if you were to check Mr Clarkson’s passport it would describe his job as ‘Professional Arse’. Does anyone else share my astonishment that Unison’s Assistant General Secretary, Karen Jennings said Jeremy Clarkson’s comments about striking workers were an ‘incitement to violence’ and legal action was being considered? I’m sure I’d be delighted that my Union subs were being spent on such a noble cause – and that I could sleep soundly in the knowledge that…well what? That the loose mouthed ex-Paddington Bear salesman has pissed off some folk high up in the Union and that they have got him to retract the statement thus preventing the wholesale slaughter of strikers by Clarkson followers who couldn’t quite help themselves…
Personally I’m more pissed about that ‘futile’ comment.
On 27th of November, just before 7am, the respected and loved manager of the Welsh national football team, Gary Speed, was found by his wife, Louise, apparently having committed suicide by hanging – an absolute devastating tragedy for all concerned.
As you’d expect tributes came flooding in from ex colleagues and dignitaries alike – from Ryan Giggs to David Cameron. From the perspective of ‘Walk a Mile’ it has been heart warming to hear about the positive regards being poured out to Gary Speed’s family.
One voice, though, was hugely criticised for their input – Joey Barton, midfielder for the premiership club Queens Park Rangers, wrote on Twitter,
‘Suicide is a mix of the most tragic, most selfish, most terrible (and I want to believe preventable) acts out there,’ he said.
‘Just didn’t seem at all fitting with his character but again, I am in no position to speak. I feel terrible for his kids, family and friends.’
His words have been described as insensitive and inappropriate by many concerned.
But are they? Don’t they just reflect the thoughts of many people who are less inclined to voice them in such a public arena? I must admit, I personally recoiled at the word ‘selfish’ – I remember the time when I came so very close to committing the dastardly deed, ‘selfish’ isn’t a word that would have described my intention.
I fully believed that my exit would have given people a reprieve, relief from my toxicity – that in taking my own life I would have been giving. Obviously, I can’t even begin to wonder what was going through Gary Speed’s mind.
When I recently attended the funeral of a friend of a friend who’d taken their own life, I was touched by the words of the priest. He stressed the importance of allowing those close to her to explore fully all of their emotions – sadness – loss – bewilderment – and anger – that all of these feelings were valid.
Walk a Mile in My Shoes was borne out of the silence around mental health. If people like Joey Barton are prohibited from voicing their beliefs and concerns they will remain hidden from view.
There will be no debate – no discussion – only a residual fear of commenting on such difficult topics.
Polarization and censorship are not the way ahead.
Walk a Mile