Free speech isn’t just for you

Jeremy Clarkson has upset people. Nothing new there. Commenting on the strikes on November the 30th, he said:

“I would have them all shot. I would take them outside and execute them in front of their families. I mean how dare they go on strike when they have these gilt-edged pensions that are going to be guaranteed, while the rest of us have to work for a living.”

Later (not in the clip below) he said: “‘I do sometimes use the train to come to London but it always stops in Reading. It’s always because somebody has jumped in front of it and somebody has burst. You just think, why have we stopped because we’ve hit somebody? What’s the point of stopping? It won’t make them better.”


So here’s what I think of what he said. First of all, it is clear to me that the comment about shooting people is not his serious opinion. It is hyperbole. This is just how Clarkson is, he says stupid things that he doesn’t mean to make some people laugh and make other people outraged. To me, it’s not funny, to some unpleasant people, it is. His comment about “gilt-edged pensions” is plain wrong. Public sector pensions are not gilt-edged, gold-plated or any other phrase that implies that they provide enough to live on.

1.11 The Commission firmly rejected the claim that current public service pensions are ‘gold plated.’ The average pension paid to pensioner members is around £7,800 per year, while the median payment is around £5,600.

From Page 26 of the Hutton Report [PDF]

Clarkson is also a hypocrite for calling pensions gilt-edged and claiming that “the rest of us have to work for a living.” I don’t know what his pension is like, but he definitely earns above the average wage – including approximately £1 million per year from the BBC. And I am fairly sure that he doesn’t work as hard as the average teacher, nurse or other public sector worker. As for his comments about people who fall under trains inconveniencing him, that just shows how detached and insensitive he is.

Last week another example of offensive speech made the news. A woman on a tram let out a tirade of racist speech, argument and abuse, and it was all captured on video. That video caused enough outrage to be viewed over 7.5 million times on YouTube. Since that incident the woman has been arrested and charged with racially/religiously aggravated intentional harassment.

Following his comments, Unison said today that they are considering reporting Clarkson to the police for hate speech. What Clarkson said was offensive and vile in my opinion but for all that I disagree with him, I cannot agree with those who say that he should be prosecuted or sued for what he said. I believe that freedom to say what we want is absolutely essential. Article 9 of the European Convention of Human Rights give us the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion – to think what we want. Article 10 gives us the right to Freedom of Expression – to say what we want. Those are rights. They are not supposed to be negotiable; we must be allowed to think whatever we want and to speak our opinions. People who say things that are popular don’t need those rights enshrined in law because nobody will try to stop them from speaking. It is people who say things that are not popular that need the protection of those rights. And it isn’t just the freedom to say something hurtful or hateful, it is also the freedom to criticise those in power and to protest against government policy. It is very hard if not impossible to clamp down on any expression without providing excuses to clamp down on all expression.

That isn’t to say that there is no way to avoid what people say. We don’t have a right not to be offended by what someone says, but we do have a right not to listen. If offensive comments are left on a private blog or website, I see no reason why they can’t be removed. That’s not censorship, that is refusing to listen. The person who left the comments is free to get their own blog to say what they want. In the case of the woman on the tram, I think if she is found guilty of harassment then that is probably fair – but that is not for what she said but for who she said it to and how she said it. I think it would have been quite reasonable for the driver to ask her to leave the vehicle so that the other passengers did not need to be exposed to what she was saying. In the case of Jeremy Clarkson many people don’t want to hear what he says and don’t want to pay him to say it. I think it is fair for people who pay the BBC license fee to demand that the BBC not pay those fees to Clarkson as a salary for saying offensive things, and quite fair for the BBC to sack him. I don’t think that will happen though. I certainly don’t think that he should be prosecuted for hate speech. I’m also not saying that such offensive speech cannot be opposed. I think it is right to speak out against such opinions and there is nothing to stop other people criticising what was said. It is common for campaigns by the BNP and rallies by the EDL to be opposed by counter-protests by people who feel that they cannot let such political views go unopposed.

Where is the line as to what people can say, then? I agree that there must be a line. I think this because at some point a person using their right to say what they want can cross into abusing other people’s rights. In the case of freedom of speech I do not think that the line should be drawn to prevent offence, but should be drawn at the point where it becomes a threat to other people. I think the charge of harassment for the racist lady on the tram is probably the right charge. I would have disagreed with the charge if it had been hate speech.

This is a difficult problem though. A few months ago Kaliya Franklin (Bendy Girl) had comments left on her YouTube videos that advocated that she be killed because she is disabled. The comments were threatening and a horrible experience for her, and she reported them to the police. I don’t doubt that the comments were a crime under the rules about hate speech. The question is, should they be? I wouldn’t want to allow such comments but at the same time I believe that people should be free to think such things if they are that nasty. I don’t have an answer to this problem.

In the end I think the laws that we have on hate speech are unnecessary. When hate speech becomes threats or harassment it is covered by other laws.



My Tram Experience [YouTube]

Jeremy Clarkson: ‘execute’ public sector workers, says BBC Top Gear host [Telegraph]

Sack Jeremy Clarkson over strike comments, Unison urges [BBC]

How rich is controversial Top Gear host Jeremy Clarkson? [This is money]

Author: Latentexistence

The world is broken and I can't fix it because I am broken. I can, however, rant about it all and this is where I do that when I can get my thoughts together. Most of the time you'll find my words on Twitter rather than here though. I sometimes write for Where's The Benefit too.

5 thoughts on “Free speech isn’t just for you”

  1. I think we look at things with a different emphasis. I’m going to focus on the arguments around disability, because that’s where I’ve had occasion to look things up.

    The right to free speech is not an absolute, even the US Supreme Court, who fetishize ‘constitutional rights’ long since agreed that there are limits, which Oliver Wendell Holmes (no friend of disabled people – see Buck vs Bell) memorably summarized as there being no right to yell ‘fire’ in a crowded cinema. Or in other words, your rights stop at the point they infringe the rights of others.

    You quoted Article 9 and 10 of the ECHR, but of equal status with those is Article 14, the right not to be subjected to discrimination. Meanwhile Article 8 of the UN Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (which has similar standing to ECHR in European Law based on Glor vs Switzerland) commits states to “To combat stereotypes, prejudices and harmful practices relating to persons with disabilities, including those based on sex and age, in all areas of life;” while Article 15 guarantees “Freedom from torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment” and further that “States Parties shall take all effective legislative, administrative, judicial or other measures to prevent persons with disabilities, on an equal basis with others, from being subjected to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” Article 16 “Freedom from exploitation, violence and abuse” and Article 17 “Protecting the integrity of the person”. Article 27, Work and Employment, explicitly includes wthe right to be protected from harassment. There’s clearly sufficient grounds amongst these ddo consider disability hate speech to be a violation of the target’s human rights, and an explicit requirement to counter it under the law.

    We shouldn’t allow the law to be used as a tool of oppression, limiting freedom of speech and expression, but equally we shouldn’t allow the law to protect those who are using speech to oppress, and injure, other people.

  2. I would have to disagree that deleting a comment is not censorship. In fact it is the very definition. If someone makes a video on Youtube for example, and someone pointed out a flaw or mocked the video, and the owner deleted the comment. Then you are denying people the right to have an open discussion about the topic at hand. Its all fair and good arguing that they can make their own blog and say it there, but the comment would not be in the place where it would have most relevance and impact.

    Offence is a funny thing, because it is usually only taken to extreme lengths by people that want their opinions to be enforced. One thing I hate is this idea that people have the right to not be offended, and as a result try to get the thing in question under lock and key. Saying that someone should be sacked is still applying a clamp of oppression on the right to free speech, and this topic in my opinion is an all or nothing game.

    As for the “unpleasant people” of witch you speak. I am one of them. I find humor in everything and find trolls somewhat amusing. I enjoy
    seeing people getting upperty over something that someone said, with out
    realising that they are just aggravating the situation. But despite
    that. I’m the kind of guy that enjoys walking down the street in the
    morning, doing nothing more other than taking in my surroundings. I’m the kind of guy that will come round and give you support when you are feeling down. I’m the kind of guy that will enjoy having hours of intelligent conversation debating topics, and still like you, even if your views don’t match up to mine. And this begs the question. does the fact that I don’t have your sense of humor make me a terrible human being?

  3. ok freedom of speech? it does not exist. try reporting this guy to the police for hate crime and you would get arrested. dozens of people have tried to get the police to arrest this clown but hey hes black!  he only wants to kill emma west and her kid .
    the police have said they cant view you tube on the police computers ( wonder how they got Emma Wests video?)
     . the woman on the train was obviously troubled.
     this guy is a thug pure and simple.
    i expect to get this comment banned or flagged.( onwards and upwards)


  4. “we should put the indigenous people first.”


    Sorry, Franco-Scandinavian immigrants


    Just plain Scandinavian immigrants.


    Germanics – damn, immigrants again.

    Jutes and Danes?

    More Germanics.

    Okay, Romano-British.

    Nope, immigrants, again – Italians, Gauls, Alans, Germanics, Syrians. Hell, even St George (and this is his era) was a Roman from Syria with a father from Kappadocia (Turkey), though at least he wasn’t an immigrant. He never got anywhere near Brittania. But apart from him, immigrants everywhere you look.

    Celts, surely!

    (I’ve told you to stop calling me Shirley!), immigrants, sorry.

    Bronze Age?

    Hmm, grave at Stonehenge, but born in Switzerland. Immigrant it is.

    Beaker Folk?

    Spanish immigrants.

    Atlantic Bronze Age  

    Immigrants, where from is the question, but relating to major population movements and falls of civilizations across the entire continent, Mediterranean and Near East

    Brits have been immigrants going back at least to 1,200 BC. There’s no such thing as an indigenous British people.

    1. try thinking of the ones that have gave up there lives and fought in that last two world wars. so that we could have freedom of speech and live a better life.
      there is such thing as an indigenous Briton. ( me).and my fellow English welsh Scottish folk. be they black white yellow whatever.
      the ones that settle and adopt our culture and pay into the system are fine.

      this influx of third world immigration has ruined the country.
      walk around London Birmingham or any major UK city and what do you see and hear. certainly not english. David if you want to work untill you drop, never get on the property ladder live in a crime filled ghetto and eventually be forced to convert to islam then you keep voting for the Tweedledee  party’s. 
      notice this week another white lad hunted down and killed by a bunch of black thugs?

      you would not know about it mate ,because we still get the Stephen Laurence thing forced down our throats day in day out. and the lad was white so lets keep it sh-tum!

      like i always maintain you lefties moan about freedom of speech . but as soon as you hear any real truth you go deaf!.

      my advice buy a shotgun and fit window locks.

      i expect this to post to get deleted:) again!

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