Over the past decade, there has been a global decline in respect for freedom of expression. And Europes democracies traditionally understood to be places in which these rights are both honored and protected have not been immune.
According to Reporters Without Borderss Press Freedom Index, which measures trends in media freedom at both the global and regional levels, all but two European Union-member states (plus Iceland and Norway) have a lower press freedom score in 2016 than they did in 2013. In some cases, there has been marked backsliding: Germany went from a score of 10.24 in 2013 to 14.8 in 2016 (the lower the score, the more respect for press freedom); the United Kingdom has gone from 16.89 to 21.7; and Poland is among the worst cases, jumping from a respectable 13.11 to a deeply worrying 23.89. These scores reflect changes in important indicators such as media independence, self-censorship, and rule of law, among others.
Freedom of expression has always been unevenly protected in Europe. This is because of a philosophical divide that cuts across the continent: Some European countries can be classified as militant democracies. In these countries, the state limits freedom of speech and association when it is deemed to threaten other values outlined in the constitution, such as democracy and the freedom of others. Germany, which regularly bans or has banned various Communist, National Socialist, and Islamist organizations, is a classic example.France, which prohibits Holocaust denial, shuts down mosques it deems too radical and aggressively enforces laws against hate speech and glorification of terrorism, also falls mainly into this camp.
While there are historical justifications for some of these policies, they raise important questions and produce awkward results. Why is it impermissible to deny the Holocaust but permissible to deny the Armenian genocide? Or the evils of the slave trade and colonialism for that matter? What is the metric used for determining whether something is hate speech, or just permissible criticism? Increasingly, laws against hatred and offense have come to target controversial but non-violent speech including that of comedians, politicians critical of immigration, as well as Muslims vocally opposed to Western foreign policy. Moreover, there seems to be little evidence suggesting that suppressing speech leads to higher levels of tolerance in liberal democracies. A new report from Germanys domestic intelligence agencyshows not only that there were 500 more extreme-right entities in 2015 than in 2014, but also that there has been a 42 percent increase in violent acts by right-wing extremists over that same period. American NGO Human Rights First also documented a doubling of anti-Semitic hate crimes in France from 2014-2015. A recent report by two Norwegian researchers suggests that an environment where controversial expressions are filtered out may increase the risk of extremist violence.
On the other end of the spectrum are the Scandinavian countries and the United Kingdom the liberal democracies that have traditionally been more tolerant of intolerance (though no European state offers as robust a protection of free speech as the First Amendment in the U.S. Constitution). Lately, however, it seems that even these states are edging closer toward a militant democracy-style approach.
This past spring, a majority in the Danish Parliament broke with 70 years of tolerating most instances of extreme expressions to enact a law that will criminalize religious teaching that explicitly condones certain crimes such as murder, violence, and even polygamy. Under the law, an imam or priest who explicitly condones the spanking of children or polygamy as part of his or her religious teaching would face up to three years in prison, whereas a politician or ordinary citizen condoning such practices would be free to do so. The law also bars religious preachers who have expressed anti-democratic views from entering the country.
Denmark has been a bastion of free speech protections in Europe, including, at times, from groups that have advocated for totalitarian ideologies, both secular and religious. During the Cold War, the Danish Communist Party held seats in Parliament and freely published pro-Kremlin propaganda. Nazis were also allowed to regroup and advocate their supremacist ideas despite the Nazi occupation of Denmark from 1940-45. Notwithstanding this permissive environment, neither Nazism nor Communism has managed to seriously establish themselves in Denmark. Despite worrying levels of radicalization among some Danish Muslims, Denmark is hardly poised to become a caliphate anytime soon. And yet there are signs that the land that fiercely stood up for the right of its newspapers to publish cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed has begun shifting away from this commitment to free expression. On Constitution Day in early June, Danish Justice Minister Sren Pind who once called himself the Freedom Minister because of his determination to spread liberty to developing countries in the global south announced his intention to criminalize the grossly negligent sharing of extremist material online. If the law is enacted, linking to online magazines such as the Islamic States Dabiq would mean jail time.
Denmarks efforts have been inspired by various counterextremist measures that the historically tolerant U.K. has taken over the past decade. In a speech in May, for example, British Prime Minister David Cameron announced his intentions to pursue a law that will, according to the Guardian, allow the government the ability to ban non-violent extremist organizations, gag individuals and empower local councils to close premises used to promote hatred. The government has previously defined extremism as vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, and mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs. This definition is vast and sweeping: It would essentially label anyone opposed to liberal democracy as an extremist.
The movement toward a more German approach to free speech, one that silences the perceived enemies of an open society, has not only taken root at the national level but is increasingly the guiding philosophy of European institutions. The final limits on free speech in Europe are ultimately determined by the European Court of Human Rights, which is under the auspices of the Council of Europe and the European Convention on Human Rights. The court can pass legally binding judgments against member states. In a number of cases, the court has determined that member states may ban extremist religious and political organizations (such as Hizb-ut-Tahrir, an Islamist movement committed to the nonviolent establishment of a global caliphate) and prohibit mere glorification of terrorism. The court views hate speech, including Holocaust denial, as an abuse of convention rights and therefore allows it no legal free speech protections. This sets a relatively low bar for the protection of controversial speech across 47 European states and leaves wiggle room for states eager to exploit such openings to further expand the permissible limits on expression.
EU law, which has primacy over national law, is increasingly developing new limitations on speech that apply to all member states. The Framework Decision on Combating Racism and Xenophobia, adopted in 2008, obliges EU states to criminalize hate speech, albeit not in a uniform manner. Lately, the European Commission has signaled that it wants to see the Framework Decision enforced more vigorously. In a speech on Oct. 2, 2015, EU Commissioner for Justice and Consumers Vera Jourova said that member states must firmly and immediately investigate and prosecute racist hatred. She added, I find it disgraceful that Holocaust denial is a criminal offense in only 13 member states. The commission has even suggested that legal proceedings could be brought against member states that have not fully transposed the Framework Decision that is, the commission is considering bringing member states before the European Court of Justice for offering freedom of expression protection that is too strong.
But the most serious blow to freedom of expression in Europe may be the recently signed Code of Conduct (COC) between the European Commission and Facebook, Microsoft, Twitter, and YouTube. Under the COC, these tech giants have agreed to review the majority of valid notifications for removal of illegal hate speech in less than 24 hours and remove or disable access to such content, if necessary. What constitutes illegal hate speech is not clear. The COC refers to the Framework Decision and national laws. However, the Framework Decisions definition of what constitutes incitement to hatred is far from clear, and national hate speech laws vary widely. While 13 countries ban Holocaust denial, many others do not. In Sweden, an artist was imprisoned for six months for racist and offensive posters exhibited in an art museum; the same posters were freely exhibited in Denmark. Should Facebook remove all content that may constitute Holocaust denial, or only when uploaded in, say, Germany or France? Should an internet meme based on the offensive Swedish posters be guided by Danish or Swedish standards? This uncertainty may force companies to err on the side of caution and adopt a bias toward preventive censorship.
The COC essentially privatizes internet censorship with none of the accountability, publicity, and legal safeguards that follow from proper legal procedures. Since social media has become essential for traditional media to reach a wide audience, the COC could cause a ripple effect of self-censorship on the part of outlets that fear their content could be removed from social media platforms for being hate speech. The COC will not only affect freedom of expression in the EU, but also the EUs ability to campaign credibly for freedom of expression and internet freedom in countries where censorship is the norm. After all, why should the Putins and Xi Jipings of the world take lessons on internet freedom from an organization that imposes nebulous limits on the internet?
Democratic Europe still remains a bastion of free speech compared with most other places in the world. But the closing of the European mind, by prohibiting expressions that agitate against Europes fundamental values, moves these democracies uncomfortably close to practices that the EU is supposed to guard against. This trend bears an uncanny (albeit imperfect) resemblance to the infamous Section 106 of the East German penal code, which criminalized anti-state propaganda, including agitation against the constitutional basis of the socialist state and social order of the GDR (German Democratic Republic) and glorification of fascism and militarism. Europe should make sure that such rot does not take hold in its democratic foundation, which cannot hold firm without a robust protection of free speech.
Photo credit: OZAN KOSE/AFP/Getty Images
View original post here:
- Facebook and Zuckerberg keep getting freedom of expression wrong - The Next Web - January 19th, 2020
- Quillen Op-Ed: 'How to Protect Free Speech in the Age of Mass Shootings' - Davidson News - January 19th, 2020
- Brazils Top Culture Official Fired Over Speech Evoking Nazi Propaganda - The New York Times - January 19th, 2020
- Franklin Republican wants to make it a crime to burn symbol of liberty - The Union Leader - January 19th, 2020
- Experts warn of foreign disinformation in 2020 election that could 'annihilate truth' - The Daily World - January 19th, 2020
- Editorial: NH House should reject bill that violates freedom of the press - Seacoastonline.com - January 19th, 2020
- Montclair State Univ. Sued for 'Unconstitutional' Speech Policy and Favoring One Student Group Over Another Based on Their Beliefs - CBN News - January 19th, 2020
- Sheffield Arena urged to cancel event by 'homophobic' Trump ally - The Guardian - January 19th, 2020
- Free Speech Left for Space as Professor Fired Over a Political Joke - Ask the Truth - January 19th, 2020
- Join the Inquisition or lose your job: wasn't Hong Kong meant to give peace a chance? - Hong Kong Free Press - January 19th, 2020
- Appeals Court reverses conviction in freedom of speech case - Whidbey News-Times - January 5th, 2020
- The war on free speech in Tanzania - The Week Magazine - January 5th, 2020
- Ricky Gervais: 'Offense is the collateral damage of free speech' - Washington Times - January 5th, 2020
- Non-profit sues Iowa State University on grounds of free speech infringement - Local 5 - weareiowa.com - January 5th, 2020
- 'Anne with an E' Season 3 Episode 7 Review: Free speech crusade makes it one of the best episodes on TV - MEAWW - January 5th, 2020
- How I Learned to Love Free Speech - The Good Men Project - December 25th, 2019
- 2019 was the year 'cancel culture' took on a gorgeously messy life of its own - Mashable - December 25th, 2019
- Rugby League: Toronto Wolfpack say Sonny Bill Williams has 'right to freedom of speech' after Uighur tweet - Newshub - December 25th, 2019
- From the Age of Persuasion to the Age of Offense - lareviewofbooks - December 25th, 2019
- California Freelancers Sue To Stop Law That's Destroying Their Jobs. Pol Says Those 'Were Never Good Jobs' Anyway. - Reason - December 25th, 2019
- LeBron James angers Hong Kong protesters with free speech comments - PBS NewsHour - October 16th, 2019
- Internet Industry Under the Microscope as House Committee Grills Witnesses on Liability for Online Content - BroadbandBreakfast.com - October 16th, 2019
- Can we have too much freedom of speech? - Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal - September 19th, 2019
- The Arizona Supreme Court Strikes a Powerful Blow for Free Speech and Religious Freedom - National Review - September 19th, 2019
- The Growing Right-Wing Threat to Campus Free Speech - Reason - September 19th, 2019
- Freedom of Speech Protects Calligraphers' Right Not to Create Custom Same-Sex Wedding Invitations - Reason - September 19th, 2019
- Nicholls holds freedom of speech panel discussion - Daily Comet - September 19th, 2019
- Remembering why free speech is important - Pacific Legal Foundation (PLF) - September 19th, 2019
- Wheaton College Students Sue Chicago for Banning Them From Evangelizing at The Bean - The Daily Beast - September 19th, 2019
- A Revival of Free Speech (and True Tolerance) - Townhall - September 19th, 2019
- Appeals Court: No, Lynching Threats Are Not Free Speech - Patheos - September 19th, 2019
- Why oppose banning books and free speech? - Seacoastonline.com - September 19th, 2019
- The litmus test for free speech - The Hindu - September 19th, 2019
- The Right Wings War on the L.G.B.T.Q. Community - The New Yorker - September 19th, 2019
- Reactions Mixed After Brush & Nib Ruling - KJZZ - September 19th, 2019
- There is no free press: Freedom of speech in Mexico | DW ... - February 20th, 2019
- Benefits Of Freedom of Speech Benefits Of - February 13th, 2019
- Freedom of speech - Wikiquote - November 13th, 2018
- Freedom of Speech Quotes - QuotesHunter - November 13th, 2018
- Freedom of Speech: General - Bill of Rights Institute - November 13th, 2018
- What Are Examples of Freedom of Speech? | Reference.com - November 1st, 2018
- The Importance of Freedom of Speech in College Essay ... - November 1st, 2018
- Freedom Of Speech Quotes (305 quotes) - October 8th, 2018
- Freedom of Speech: Mightier Than the Sword: David K ... - September 28th, 2018
- Freedom Of Speech Quotes (300 quotes) - September 6th, 2018
- Freedom of Speech - Facts & Summary - HISTORY.com - September 6th, 2018
- Freedom Of Speech Quotes (298 quotes) - August 9th, 2018
- Freedom Of Speech Quotes (297 quotes) - July 14th, 2018
- Why Is Freedom of Speech Important? | Reference.com - April 20th, 2018
- The Iceberg/Freedom of Speech... Just Watch What You Say ... - February 14th, 2018
- The Iceberg/Freedom of Speech... Just Watch What You Say! - February 2nd, 2018
- A free-speech rally, minus the free speech - The Boston Globe - August 25th, 2017
- Poll: 85 Percent Say Freedom of Speech More Important Than Not Offending Others - Breitbart News - August 25th, 2017
- 73% Say Freedom of Speech Worth Dying For - Rasmussen Reports - August 25th, 2017
- A Free-speech Rally, Minus the Free Speech - Townhall - August 24th, 2017
- Freedom of speech is for all - The Register-Guard - August 22nd, 2017
- Why Even Nazis Deserve Free Speech - POLITICO Magazine - August 22nd, 2017
- Free Speech: The Left Moves In for the Kill - PJ Media - August 22nd, 2017
- So, just how guaranteed is your freedom of speech online? | New ... - New York Post - August 21st, 2017
- A KKK chief just threatened to 'burn' all immigrants freedom of speech has gone too far - The Independent - August 21st, 2017
- Hate speech v free speech: Where is the line? Part 1 - Aljazeera.com - August 21st, 2017
- Will Britain's crackdown on internet trolls undermine freedom of speech? - RT - August 21st, 2017
- Is hate speech protected by American law? Quartz - Quartz - August 19th, 2017
- Hate on the Web: Does banning neo-Nazi websites raise free-speech issues for the rest of us? - Los Angeles Times - August 19th, 2017
- Letters: A clarion call for free speech - Press-Enterprise - August 18th, 2017
- 'Swedish police should prioritize crimes against freedom of speech' - The Local Sweden - August 18th, 2017
- Boston Free Speech Rally Permit Approved - CBS Boston / WBZ - August 16th, 2017
- Free Speech and Assembly in Hong Kong - New York Times - August 16th, 2017
- Strange bedfellows: The ACLU, free speech and Neo-Nazis - ABC News - August 16th, 2017
- Free speech and White Supremacy at Texas A & M (and elsewhere) - Washington Post - August 16th, 2017
- Free speech comes at a price - Spectrum News - August 16th, 2017
- Today in actual free speech violations: DOJ issues warrant for info on protesters - A.V. Club - August 15th, 2017
- Neo-Nazis have the right to free speech. They don't have the right to deny it to the rest of us - Quartz - August 14th, 2017
- In Defense of Lance Armstrong and His Freedom of Speech - Outside Magazine - August 14th, 2017
- SMU reverses decision to move 9/11 memorial after free speech ... - USA TODAY - August 12th, 2017
- Their view: Google memo is not a free speech issue - Wilkes Barre Times-Leader - August 12th, 2017
- Google Supports Freedom Of Speech For Child Sex Traffickers, But Not Conservatives - The Federalist - August 12th, 2017
- Freedom Of Speech: Poland Plots Restrictions On Foreign Media And US Companies Could Be Hit - Newsweek - August 10th, 2017
- Free-speech rights don't apply in the American workplace, as Google demonstrates - Quartz - August 9th, 2017
- Google's Free Speech & Diversity But | National Review - National Review - August 9th, 2017