The Ranting Kraut

19.3.2006 – 27.9.2010

Censorship in Action

Posted by rantingkraut on August 8, 2007

Channel 4 is apparently being reported to ofcom for representing radical Muslim preachers out of context. Of course, people can in principle be misquoted and this would indeed be a violation of journalistic standards, so the mere fact that ofcom is looking into such an issue may well be defensible. What is more worrying is that criminal charges were considered in this case, the Daily Telegraph reports:

The statement added that the CPS “was also asked by the police to consider whether a prosecution under the Public Order Act 1986 should be brought against Channel 4 for broadcasting a programme including material likely to stir up racial hatred.”

Miss David advised that “on the evidence available, there was insufficient evidence that racial hatred had been stirred up as a direct consequence of the programme.”” (Source)

This is –first of all- yet another case were an ideological orientation (Islamism) is misclassified as ethnic background. It also clearly shows how censorship laws are starting to work: Channel 4 would apparently have been indicted had somebody else ‘directly been stirred up’ by the documentary; in other words: the program makers would be held accountable not for incitement, not for what they said or what they intended but for how somebody else interpreted their message.

Whatever the quality standards of this program, this was clearly not a case of anyone edging on a group of racist thugs, but serious investigative journalism. The implications are clear: it is dangerous business for journalists to investigate controversial subjects. Even tough no criminal case was brought on this occasion, it was clearly signaled that inconvenient journalists can expect to be the subject of a criminal prosecution depending on how a third party subjectively interpreted their report, i.e. depending on something beyond their control.

The law used in this case was not new, but the increasingly assertive and extended use of ‘hate speech’ laws [1] contributes to a mounting threat of legally enforced censorship.

lgf has the Channel 4 news report and original documentary. The news coverage contains an interview with one of the alleged victims of misrepresentation. He gives largely evasive answers when asked to clarify the proper context. The only exception to this is one instance were he addressed a hypothetical question on freedom of speech, and in this case the hypothetical context of his statement should have been clear to anyone who can distinguish the conditional and indicative moods of a verb.

[1] For background information on this tendency, consider for example: David G. Green “We’re (Nearly) all Victims Now” CIVITAS

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