The European Commission Against Racism and Intolerance conducts a report every 5 years on the state of hate crime laws, the media, politicians, society with regards to racism and intolerance.
The UK has had the “honour” of having its next report. Most of it is a fairly mundane overview of laws, stats, and such. The report praises a lot of what the UK has done to combat racism and intolerance without infringing on the individual.
Unfortunately when the report talks about the traditional media, newspapers, magazines, and such, it reveals a disturbing intent. An intent to restrict the press, and as such free speech (or maybe that is the other way round). Below is the direct quote of the suggestion the ECRI calls for the UK government to do:
7. (§ 56) ECRI strongly recommends that the authorities find a way to establish an
independent press regulator according to the recommendations set out in the Leveson
Report. It recommends more rigorous training for journalists to ensure better compliance
with ethical standards. It further recommends the authorities to sign and ratify the
Additional Protocol to the Convention on Cybercrime. (pg. 64)
Now it reads rather mundanely, like the rest of the report, however, there are two issues. Firstly, the subtle hint that being offensive through words or speech is a breaking of ethical standards. Certainly some news outlets skirt on the edge of good taste, decency, and/or sensitivity in certain news stories but they have the right to do that thanks to freedom of the press and freedom of speech. It is your right to be offensive through speech and written word and only your own judgement and taste limits you, apart from one factor – it is illegal to incite someone to commit a violent act (as it would be breaking the law) or join a terrorist organisation. That all seems rather sensible. If you do say offensive things then the consequences are your own, you could be ostracised if it is particularly bad or, in the case of journalism, your publication boycotted. It should never be the place of the government to suggest what is and is not offensive, mainly because no one can ever agree on what is or isn’t offensive in the first place.
Secondly, is the suggestion to ratify the Additional Protocol to the Convention on Cybercrime. This protocol suggests governments make it illegal to disseminate material which is racist or xenophobic, or insult, or threaten online people by reference to their religion, race, nationality, language, or sexual orientation. The UK Government responded by saying it
sets the criminal threshold for racial hatred lower than the criminal threshold for racial hatred in UK domestic law under the Public Order Act 1986, which applies to acts committed both offline and online. This Government believes that our present laws strike the right balance between the need to protect individuals from hatred and violence, and the right to freedom of expression, even if the views expressed are offensive. (pg. 65)
Essentially this means the UK government has defended the freedom of expression and press freedoms from restrictions that may at first appear harmless but because of opaque terms within could be used for other reasons that would harm democracy.
The UK government made as much clear in the following statement, “The Government is committed to a free and open press and does not interfere with what the press does and does not publish, as long as the press abides by the law.” So, as long as the press does not incite violence against a person or group then they can say what they want, and rightly so. It is best that all ideas are aired openly instead of picking and choosing through the law which can and cannot be.