By the narrowest of margins–283 votes against 282–the British House of Commons defeated the so-called “Racial and Religious Hatred Bill,” which would have imposed heavy restrictions on freedom of expression. Indeed, it would have in effect restored the threat of prosecution for “blasphemy” that once hung over the heads of the unorthodox.
Following the 283-282 vote, the language of the bill was amended, and it will evidently become law in its modified form. It’s a lot better than it was, but I think it is still likely to exercise a chilling effect on free expression.
Meanwhile, the European Union is talking about establishing a media code of conduct which would “encourage the media to show ‘prudence’ when covering religion.”
“We are aware of the consequences of exercising the right of free expression,” said EU Justice and Security Commissioner Franco Frattini . “We can and we are ready to self-regulate that right.” It is said that the projected media code would be voluntary…anyone want to guess how long that voluntary status would last? The arrogance of Commissioner Frattini, who evidently thinks he has the authority to say “we” on behalf of all the people of Europe, is not encouraging.
And in New Zealand, it sounds like some high-ranking government officials want freedom of the press to be viewed through the lens of its effect on foreign trade.
The U.S. is by no means exempt from this kind of thing: particularly in the universities, pressure for intellectual conformity has in many places reached stifling levels.
For several hundred years, freedom of expression in the Western world has been on the increase. There have been local and temporary setbacks, but if one could somehow graph something like “freedom of expression,” the line has generally been sloping upwards.
In recent years, the trend seems to have reversed, and this phenomenon seems to be occuring in multiple countries.
For discussion: Do you agree with this observation? If so, what are the root causes? And, most importantly, what can be done to remedy the situation?
UPDATE: Check out what’s going on in Sweden. It’s pretty scary when a national “Security Service” starts shutting down political websites.