Home » Uncategorized » Where does freedom of expression end?

Where does freedom of expression end?

There have been a few blog entries I’ve read recently about the Stop Funding Hate campaign decrying the campaign’s success with Lego withdrawing its promotions from the Daily Mail. Here’s one http://blogs.spectator.co.uk/2016/11/stop-funding-hate-nasty-elitist-campaign-press-censorship/

Here’s another http://www.holdthefrontpage.co.uk/2016/news/deputy-editor-attacks-stop-funding-hate-supporters-hypocrisy/

And a third http://www.bruceonpolitics.com/2016/11/13/stop-funding-hate-fascists/

There are two problems with the arguments against what the SFH campaign is doing.

The first is; they’re not limiting free speech. They’re merely using the tools that created a platform for the Daily Mail and Express against them.

There are no left wing mass media outlets. By the nature of mass media, it requires massive funding to achieve. People with lots of money tend to be right wing, because of course they’d be OK with the system as it is, it’s the one in which they’ve become successful, and it’s not in their interest therefore to change it. Some may have made their money by luck, or intelligence, or a combination of both, but the largest corporations make their money because the capitalist system works for them.

Newspapers have a ludicrous business model. They only survive because of advertising. When I was at journalism school (89 – 92) I wasn’t very motivated by the newspaper side of things because I assumed with the Internet they wouldn’t be around much longer. I’d not accounted for the inertia that culture and big business together can provide. They’re not driven by audiences therefore, they’re driven by advertisers, hence big business, hence right wing.

For the average person to influence their direction therefore, it can’t be done by not buying them. People are already not buying them. They can only influence them by not buying stuff from their advertisers.

But nobody’s stopping them from saying what they want. There’s the normal social media avenue that everyone else who’s not supported by massive corporate investment has. Anyone who works for a newspaper is still free to use that. There’s no suppression involved, just an effort to limit the unfair advantage. So likening the process to book burning is ridiculous.

The second flaw in the argument is that none of the stuff I’ve read from those who are supporting the campaign argues that newspapers shouldn’t express a different political position if they want. Any well-argued, accurate and evidenced account from a different perspective is fine.

It’s poorly-argued, inaccurate and evidenceless positions that are what they’re objecting to. The failure of mass media to actually stick to the truth is a given, the Mail never has after all. From an educational perspective though, and looking at things like “graduateness”, educating a population to insist on the truth should be one of our aims. If not our chief aim. And from that perspective seeing people demanding it, and a big business acceding to the need for it before they will invest in something, is reassuring that in some areas at least, things are moving in the right direction.

To say something is “true” is of course could be falling to the trap of assuming there is such a thing as independent objective reality. Of course there isn’t. The word “is” should only ever be used as a short-hand for “according to the best interpretation of the available evidence”. Since doing my astrophysics degree we’ve gone from “the rate of the universe expansion is slowing” to “the rate of the universe expansion is increasing”. The first of those things was true in the 80s, the second of those is currently true. Any fact is only tentatively held.

That doesn’t mean though that the truth is completely up for grabs and that any statement is valid because no-one really knows. I’ve been increasingly surprised by the discussions in the Horizon 2020 groups on LinkedIn where there are a lot of statements denouncing scientific arrogance, that science is perceived as the only route to knowledge. If you think that testing, evidence, argument, and selecting the best explanation from those presented by that process isn’t the only way to come up with a viewpoint, then stay the fuck away from research. And stay the fuck away from education too. Because you are a waste of oxygen. And far too dangerous to be around learners.

We’ve seen one huge problem with this lack of insistence on evidence with the Trump candidacy. Politifact http://www.politifact.com/ ought to be one of the most influential sites in politics, because if someone’s making stuff up, it should really count against them. But then there’s this http://www.politifact.com/personalities/donald-trump/statements/byruling/pants-fire/ Which everyone voting knew really, but not enough people thought mattered.

So – the conclusion is, in academia, in teaching, we have to loudly and immediately call bullshit whenever it arises, not fall prey to considerations of all viewpoints being valid. It’s the best defence against intellectual dishonesty and fraudulent behaviour. And also that wishy-washy poverty of thinking exemplified by Tim Minchin in Storm https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HhGuXCuDb1U or Sokal and Bricmont in https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fashionable_Nonsense. But defend freedom of speech whenever possible too. Those two things are not incompatible at all.


2 thoughts on “Where does freedom of expression end?

  1. “Newspapers have a ludicrous business model. They only survive because of advertising.”?? Have you glanced at the WWW recently? There are quite a few companies allegedly worth multi-billion-dollar amounts whose business model is pretty similar: hook people with (near-)free content, and pay for it with advertising ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Yep you’re right. Plus TV shows, plus a lot of games only survive through advertising.

      One of the shortcomings with the way I blog – which is just a splurge of ideas – is that sometimes I half-express a thought before moving onto the next.

      What I meant was that “Newspapers have a ludicrous business model, they only survive because of advertising, and aren’t really selling a product that anyone needs – anything in a newspaper exists online already. It’s only because of cultural inertia, and the kudos and status that comes with being connected with a newspaper, that really encourage businesses to advertise with it, or anyone to buy them.”

      Good catch though ๐Ÿ™‚

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