Sunday, 20 January 2013

Freedom (of speech) isn't free (if you're being paid).


Flippin' 'eck it's all kicked off in the last couple of weeks hasn't it?  If you're part of that sector of the internet and media anyway.  Short version:  A writer wrote something containing an insensitive throw-away reference that could have suggested a deeper prejudice.  Someone called them on it on twitter saying effectively, hey, that was insensitive and could suggest a deeper prejudice, care to comment?  And was told roundly to fuck off, followed by a whole load of tweets that confirmed the deeper prejudice (in a lot of readers' eyes).
The writer then wrote something else that basically went 'the people i was rude about (and their friends) are now being mean to me!'  It escalated from there and ended with a flounce from twitter followed by a friend of the writer proving the old 'don't need enemies' adage by writing one of the most abusive articles i've ever seen in print.
No i'm not linking.  If you know the story you'll know what i'm talking about, and while i'd love to get the extra page hits from all the people googling for it, they'd probably leave nasty comments and make  me sad.
Where we currently stand is that now the community that was actually the target of the horrible nasty writers has been forgotten, and the argument has come about freedom of speech.  Which raises an issue.  Its a discussion point as to whether you have the right not to be offended - and i don't know the answer.  I don't want to be offended, but i know that people may be offended if i for instance, say that Toby Young is a bald smug tory or Julie Burchill hasn't been relevent since 1976 and doesn't appear to have had a new byline picture taken since 1986.  However, by the rules of libel (as gleaned from QI), i can't get into trouble for saying these as i'm stating a fact: that Toby Young is clearly bald, and some honest opinions - that his politics appear to be of the right, that i find him smug, and that I honestly believe that i appear to have been seeing the same picture of Julie Burchill since i used to see it in my parents' Daily Express in the 1980s.
Freedom of speech.  And that also includes name calling as it's 'common abuse'.  As i understand it. 
One element of this debate that hasn't come up though, is do these alleged journos have the right to freedom of speech when they're being paid to write, in a publication that carries advertisers, even if the publication is free to read?  I haven't bought the Observer or the Telegraph (for instance) ever, so can i claim to be paying to read it?  Well, the adverts all over the page are paid for, and the writers get paid out of that revenue.  And the readers buy the products, that's how it works.
The words are bought.  The writers are paid, its their job. So do they have the right to write an offensive article under the idea of 'freedom of speech'?  Maybe, back in the olden days before the internet, when the idea of being 'silenced' or 'voiceless' actually had credence, they did.  Maybe it was their job to seek out new people and new ideas to piss them off with.  Now?  Now, as i went on about at length in the previous blog, (sort of) the idea of anyone with a usable internet connection and the ability to use language being 'voiceless' and 'silenced' is laughable.  Social media, blogs, website hosts, youtube, soundcloud, even good old myspace and livejournal are all there and all free at the point of use. 
And yes i know, that still excludes a lot of people.  But there are free to use internet services in most places big enough to have a library, and training centres exist to help people learn how if they don't know.  I used to work in one. The word that always comes up when there are these discussions about who's allowed to say what and who's allowed to be offended, is privilege.  Privilege means being able to go about your daily life without getting abuse for just existing. Privilege means being able to get a job, because you're educated or clever or have both legs or are just plain ordinary. Privilege means being paid for something you're good at, and that makes it also a responsibility.
Being abusive about people you don't like, that's freedom of speech.  Sticking up for your  mates when they're feeling threatened, that's freedom of speech too.  Getting paid to do both?  Nope. That's privilege.  Use it wisely.