Not everybody could write a sentence beginning:
Of course, the North Koreans are right...But MEP Glyn Ford has made something of a career of it. Even "slavishly loyal" fellow Labour Party hacks can feel a bit squeamish about his approach:
Perhaps I have missed the sections in his writing on the topics where he focusses on the tortures, the killings, the needless starvation, the endemic corruption and the hugely wasteful spending on a military that is eating up every chance of prosperity in North Korea.Taking a break from blaming North Korea's problems on George Bush, Ford has teamed up with four other MEPs to:
... banish racism and hate propaganda from the Internet altogether.Doin' good ain't got no end, as they say - even when the reasons for it change. Ford has been trying to restrict freedom of expression on the internet for at least a decade, speaking in 1997 at a conference aimed at prohibiting sexually explicit imagery.
From Child Porn to Hate Speech is an easy and predictable shimmy for anyone given to cloaking their appetite for censorship in clouds of unimpeachable purity. Who could object?
Some of the attendees courageously tried to defend the argument of free-speech, but were aggressively countered by the chair of the conference with the words; but you cannot mean that you want to allow child pornography and smut on the NetA decade later, Mr Ford has more ambitious plans:
Internet providers will be expected to do more against violence- and hate-extolling pages on the Internet.Which provides a certain recipe for large ISPs to play it safe and prohibit any content that might be in any way contentious. What are the principle targets of this initiative?
A question not addressed in the declaration is whether the appeal it contains is primarily aimed at Web hosters or whether entities that offer Internet access services are also thereby to be reminded of their duties. The delicate question of where to draw the line between pages a company should on no account host and those it might find offensive but not be expected to do anything about, the initiators also fail to give an answer to in their short text.
The preamble to the declaration mentions anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and anti-Romany campaigns.Ah... Islamophobia. No mention, I notice, of the European jihadist websites - which I refuse to link to - that exult in murder and circulate videos of beheadings. No, but Islamophobia is a problem.
Vague codes of conduct or legislation against "hate speech" are just recipes for censorship of the most thoughtful by the most aggressive and shrill; the hateful content there will also be in a free society is the price we have to pay for that freedom but, in a free society, we can argue against it. And while these proposals are informal at the moment, the drafters have made it clear they won't stay like that if they don't get their way:
Should the providers refuse to act more forcefully the five initiators of the declaration have vowed to pressure the European Commission into drafting appropriate legislation.The question, with these kinds of legalistic challenges to free speech, is not so much whether they would untimately suppress reasonable and informed criticism of political and religious movements in Europe - and religion and politics have not been so closely entwined for centuries - but rather whether upstream service providers would be prepared to go to court over what will always be a marginal aspect of their business. Just the threat of action, however vexatious, could be enough to see legitimate content pulled.
We can't even feel reassured by the idea that content could always be hosted offshore. China is pioneering technology for blocking access to sites on a continent-wide scale. And as Mr Ford has made clear in his writings about North Korea, he sees no problems when authorities seek to emulate China:
But equally - with the help of its neighbours and the European Union, which Pyongyang sees as the only power capable of checking the US - there is every chance that North Korea could follow China, emerge from isolation, and join the rest of the world to play its own special role.Our worry must be that the influence from people like Ford might see the EU start to "follow China" in some regards.
With thanks to John, for emailing me details of this initiative.