Peter Singer may approve of these prosecutions. The guards at the centre of the panopticon have seen inmates behaving badly and held them up as an example to others. But their punishments make my flesh creep.
Chambers's appeal is going to a specially constituted three-judge court led by the Lord Chief Justice at the time we go to press. I am told that the judges wonder if it is a free-speech case at all. I hope they understand that it is, but of a new type. Western democracies are not dictatorships. They do not exercise total control. Instead, we are seeing the development of a partial authoritarianism based on inequalities before the law. Lord Justice Leveson wants "voluntary rules" backed by "exemplary punishments" for some publishers but not others. Students have a drink, but some have their careers ruined because of it, others do not. A Christian states his beliefs. His employers destroy his career, when other employers would have left him alone. The police pick out one bad joke on Twitter from the 400 million tweets published every day and a man loses his job and gains a criminal record.
Knowledge isn't only power, it is also evidence. The web provides vast amounts of evidence for the censorious to seize on. If we are to strengthen liberal rather than authoritarian tendencies in society, we need broader minds and thicker skins. It is hard not to write on freedom of speech without descending into cliché. But the old truths remain the best guides. The answer to bad speech is nearly always better speech, and those who argue otherwise rarely create countries worth living in.
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