Fighting for the right to tell people what they do not want to hear

Our comment
Our comment

“If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.”

So said, George Orwell, one of our greatest writers and libertarians of the 20th century.

His words echoed those of some of history’s greatest leaders.

George Washington famously remarked: “If freedom of speech is taken away, then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.”

Yet in 21st century Britain, freedom of expression has never been under such threat.

Punitive libel and contempt laws have long handcuffed the written word in this country - proving that something is true both literally and in innuendo is an expensive business.

Progressive new laws and cultural change seeking to avoid discrimination of any kind have added to the care that is required when expressing a point of view.

But never has the threat to free speech been greater than the ghastly hotch potch of press regulation scrambled together in haste by our national politicians of all three main political parties and shortly to be served up to Her Majesty The Queen in a new Royal Charter.

The Charter will be especially damaging to the 1,100 local newspapers in this country and their 31 million readers, even though the Leveson Report on which it is allegedly founded made clear that this section of the press was not guilty of any transgression and should not be penalised.

It will add such bureaucracy and cost to tiny weekly titles that the reality is they will be under pressure to avoid any story that is likely to consume them in the costly business of proving they were right to go to press with comment and news in the public interest.

One of the four national parties has, though, steadfastly shunned this profoundly misguided and fundamentally wicked piece of statutory underpinning - UKIP.

On Monday night, its leader Nigel Farage breezed into Sussex as part of his Common Sense tour of Britain and explained why he believes so passionately in free speech and why we must avoid anything that restricts that freedom.

This newspaper does not support any political party.

But we do continue to campaign vigorously for a free press and we welcome wholeheartedly his comments.

The UKIP leader reiterated UKIP’s absolute opposition to political interference with the operations of a free press.

“For this government, or any bunch of so-called politicians to support the legislative underpinning of a voluntary agreement to oversee the press is a huge mistake, and the first step on a very slippery slope,” he has said.

He has pointed out that he is himself was a victim of the hacking scandal.

“My own phone was hacked, but that is neither is neither here nor there. Things go wrong in the press, as they do in every walk of life and business, but we already have legal redress. Criminal actions are criminal actions, and are already covered by the law. Those of us in my position already have recourse to the law. We must not create anything that restricts freedom.

“Control of the media should not now, or ever, be in any way the responsibility of politicians. Any Government intervention almost always fails, as would this. It is about politicians creating a cosy world of silence where they can live and act in peace and behave without public accountability. It is a huge mistake and is laughable in the age of the Internet. It is just completely the wrong thing to do.”

No doubt Oscar Wilde - who neatly paraphrased Voltaire with the sentence ‘I may not agree with you, but I will defend to the death your right to make an ass of yourself’ - would have agreed with Mr Farage on this point.

We certainly do - and today this newspaper salutes Mr Farage for having the courage and the commonsense to stand up for a principle for which millions of Britons sacrificed their lives in two world wars.