Rowan Atkinson is doing some excellent work in the UK. He is hoping to “rewind the culture of censoriousness” by launching a campaign to repeal laws that stifle free speech:
He criticised the “new intolerance” as he called for part of it the Public Order Act to be repealed, saying it was having a “chilling effect on free expression and free protest”.
Mr Atkinson said: “The clear problem of the outlawing of insult is that too many things can be interpreted as such. Criticism, ridicule, sarcasm, merely stating an alternative point of view to the orthodoxy, can be interpreted as insult.”
The section of the Public Order Act to which Atkinson refers is s 5, which states:
5 Harassment, alarm or distress
(1) A person is guilty of an offence if he—
(a) uses threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or disorderly behaviour, or
(b) displays any writing, sign or other visible representation which is threatening, abusive or insulting… [emphasis added]
Atkinson is spot on. And he’s not the only one doing great work in the UK. Atkinson is just the latest to come out in favour of reforming the UK’s anti-free speech laws. Earlier this year a number of organisations jointly launched a campaign called “Feel free to insult me!” Stephen Fry has also declared his support for free speech.UK human rights lawyer, Adam Wagner, has also noted:
People post sick, offensive, horrible and stupid things on social media all of the time. People are sick, offensive, horrible and stupid. Anyone who has been to school knows that teenagers can also be sick, offensive, horrible and stupid. As a society, we should try to make people nicer, cleverer and less offensive. But is sending people to prison, along with rapists and violent thugs, the right way to do it?
In Australia recently there has been a growing push for greater regulation of our online activity. One “cyber-safety” campaigner has even called for the overzealous UK laws to be used as a blueprint for Australia: “There have been many cases in the UK where these people have been hunted down and charged and jailed. We need to do that in Australia.”
Regular FreedomWatchers will know that the UK is not the only country with a free speech problem. Australia’s equivalent of s 5 is s 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, which also makes offensive speech unlawful. The IPA has run a campaign to repeal s 18C. And we’d happily welcome any Australian celebrities who love free speech as much as Rowan Atkinson and Stephen Fry but they’re yet to emerge.
No matter. Even without their support our campaign has led Opposition Leader Tony Abbott to declare that a Coalition government would scrap the undemocratic law.