Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Freedom of speech is different in Europe

We the People
Don't take this for granted
Image by Chuck Coker
Matthew Woods, a 19-year-old British man, was jailed for making offensive jokes. I'm not exaggerating. A five-year-old girl, April Jones, was murdered and Woods started making disgusting jokes about her murder on Facebook. He received twelve weeks of jail time for this. Even a quick reading of other assaults on liberty in the UK are quite chilling. DNA databases, child databases, national ID databases, CCTV everywhere and yet the alleged trade-off — you give up your privacy and we'll give you security — has never manifested. The crime rate is horrendous and some argue that the UK crime rate is worse than the US.

It's also interesting to note that in Europe, libel can extend to groups. For example, in the US if I write that a particular priest is a child molester, I can be charged with libel, but if I were to write that all priests were child molesters, it's probably protected speech. Many Americans would be aghast at many European laws which extend libel protection to groups, but six million dead jews makes a powerful rebuttal. These laws are not just a silly historical accident.

Well, that's not entirely true. In the UK, unlike the US, truth is not a defense in a libel case and British libel laws have made a mockery of free speech claims in the UK. If you're wanting to move abroad and you care about issues like this, you may be in a for a rude shock. Fortunately, I've found that when I move to a new country, I'm less likely to have the same emotional investment in the political situation, allowing me to distance myself from the most egregious problems, though some cultures (Saudi Arabia, for example) are so at odds with my own that I think I would struggle to live there.

Are you an American? Do you think that only the US conception of free speech is appropriate?
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