Freedom to get it wrong

ANOTHER VIEW

Share
Related Topics
Tricky thing, freedom. People "believe" in it, as if it is a religion. They go to war for it. They make love in its name. But they rarely agree on what it is or how to obtain it. Freedom, in theory, is a pure concept. In practice, it is a nightmare cocktail of semantics, hypocrisy and compromise.

Two unrelated events this week confront us with this chasm between what rational sensible mature human beings claim to desire (total freedom) and the awful reality that so often forces us to bargain with the devil.

It is taken for granted that we in Britain do not enjoy as great a freedom of speech as people in the US. Our freedom to publish and to broadcast is qualified by a range of restrictive laws. We also have quasi-judicial regulators, such as the Independent Television Commission, which has just fined the pop music channel MTV pounds 60,000 for offending taste and decency. The fine, the second highest imposed by the ITC, is a disgraceful denial of freedom. One part of the fine was levied on a programme entitled Safe and Sexy, which showed the dangers of HIV infection. There were no complaints from viewers.

In anouncing its decision, the ITC revealed that it has been warning MTV about its content for 18 months. So, in private, a television channel has been subjected to a campaign of harassment by a group of suspect moral arbiters.

That the ITC has done this under the guise of protecting children from so-called "smutty banter" is not a convincing defence. There is no objective test of taste and decency. Inevitably, the ITC decision is based on the subjective assessment of its own panel, whose Victorian prejudices were illustrated so vividly in its recent condemnation of Channel 4's The Word. Its objections to that show were not only reactionary and anti-libertarian, but an intimidating threat to the freedom of broadcasters. Freedom, if it has real meaning at all, is also the freedom to offend, the freedom to get it wrong.

But America's self-righteous "free press" cannot afford to laugh at Britain's lack of freedom after the extraordinary case of the Unabomber. The Washington Post and New York Times agreed to publish the terrorist's 35,000-word manifesto (in the Post) after a great deal of pressure from the US government. It was pressure they should have resisted. Freedom has been compromised by a lone warrior preying on society. Voltaire would not have defended the Unabomber's "right" to be published. Just as certainly, he would have abhorred the ITC.

The writer is a former editor of the `Daily Mirror'.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Volunteer Trustee opportunities now available at The Society for Experimental Biology

Unpaid Voluntary Position : Reach Volunteering: Volunteer your expertise as Tr...

Early Years Educator

£68 - £73 per day + Competitive rates of pay based on experience: Randstad Edu...

Nursery Nurse

£69 - £73 per day + Competitive London rates of pay: Randstad Education Group:...

Primary KS1 NQTs required in Lambeth

£117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A supporter of the Kurdistan Workers' Association holds a placard during a demonstration against Islamic State (IS) in front The Hague  

Nothing will stop Isis except a Syrian truce

Patrick Cockburn
The victory of the NO campaign was confirmed at 6.08am on Friday morning  

Scottish referendum: Partisan fallout, Gordon Brown's comeback and Elizabeth, the Queen of unity

Jane Merrick
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam