Over the last 24 hours a significant number of Conservative Politicians along with an ex Labour Politician have been calling for free speech or freedom of the press to take place following on from the Extinction Rebellion attempt to block the Sun, Telegraph, Times, Mail and Financial Times from being printed. Now it is very clear that certain papers have been banned before by people who do not agree with their actions or contributions. A few years ago several groups of students from a range of Universities set out to ban the Sun, Mail and the Express. A number of years earlier there was an appalling approach by the Sun which promoted the claims from Bernard Ingham, Margaret Thatcher’s press adviser over the cause of the death of 96 people at Hillsborough. The Government initially set out to blame the Liverpool football supporters for their own deaths, claiming they had all got drunk. The Sun took this on and understandably in my home city of Liverpool, the Sun is still a very unpopular newspaper. Of course none of this related to a ban of free speech or even freedom of press as blocking these newspapers is not preventing their views to be presented publicly. It may stop them from being obtained in printed terms but their articles can still be obtained online and in the other cases, they can be purchased providing people are willing to travel outside of Liverpool or will read them off the University campuses.
More recently the ban by Dominic Cummings and his colleagues from No 10 Downing Street however was a lot more disturbing. It meant that a list of newspapers or their journalists were prevented from listening directly to the Government and to the Prime Minister in these so called press conferences. They were also prevented from being able to ask questions of the Government. Whilst that was still not a ban of free speech it was certainly much more concerning than people preventing certain newspapers from being printed or sold in certain locations. If we want free speech to be understood check out this article three months ago by a journalist called Belkis Wille who was writing this piece under the headline “Iraq’s new government should lift barriers to free speech” which included this paragraph
For a decade we have seen Iraqi journalists threatened, beaten, prosecuted and killed, sometimes at the hands of the authorities, with minimal action to protect them. The need to protect free expression should feature in the U.S.-Iraq “strategic dialogue” that is set to begin in mid-June.
Or as Amnesty International published a month earlier under the heading of “What is freedom of speech?”
Freedom of speech is the right to say whatever you like about whatever you like, whenever you like, right? Wrong.’Freedom of speech is the right to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, by any means.’Freedom of speech and the right to freedom of expression applies to ideas of all kinds including those that may be deeply offensive. But it comes with responsibilities and we believe it can be legitimately restricted.
So it is clear that as frustrating as it may be to the Tories who like writing and reading the Telegraph newspaper and also perhaps the Times and maybe even the Sun, that preventing these from being published for a day or two is not a ban to freedom of speech. Because there is now online versions of all of these newspapers the lack of a printed version is not even a ban to freedom of press. Indeed the Telegraph like the Times which usually only publishes to people who are willing to pay for their editions, has now removed that for this weekend. Given that the campaign is to raise the profile of the environmental challenges that our nation and our world is facing it would be worth considering if there is a way of enabling this campaign to be listened to by our Government with more consideration. Sadly the comments by the following people are not a very credible responses.
I agree with former Labour MP Ian Austin. Lawful protest is one thing but no one should extinguish freedom of the press. [followed by a link to the online article from the Telegraph headlined “The police response to the Extinction Rebellion’s protest was pathetic” which was written by Ian Austin.]
I hope that local Green Party Councillors Isabel Thurston and Faye Catterson will join me in condemning this shocking attack on the historic right to free speech in the U.K.?Andrew Griffith MP – Arundel and South Downs MP
The police are fearless against people who don’t wear masks on trains, or buy bottles of wine, or sit in their own gardens. But against protesters who wreck property, or prevent the distribution of a free press, or smash statues? Not so much.Daniel Hannan – former South East MEP
It is important to point out that a number of Extinction Rebellion campaigners did get arrested by the Police in the two locations where they were campaigning, despite Daniel Hannan’s comment.
This morning people across the country will be prevented from reading their newspaper because of the actions of Extinction Rebellion. This attack on our free press, society and democracy is completely unacceptable.Priti Patel, Home Secretary
A free press is vital in holding the government and other powerful institutions to account on issues critical for the future of our country, including the fight against climate changeBoris Johnson, Prime Minister