“How do you make the case for freedom of speech these days?,” asks Brendan O’Neill in the latest episode of So to Speak: The Free Speech Podcast.
The question is a serious one for O’Neill. As the editor of the online British current-affairs magazine spiked, he is on the front lines every day fighting to preserve free speech and a free press in a legal environment that doesn’t have a First Amendment.
O’Neill says that in the United States, “instead of having the argument out about why this form of censorship is really bad and why free speech is incredibly important, there can be a kind of reliance on the First Amendment to do that job for you.”
He doesn’t get that luxury in the United Kingdom.
In a part of the world that just last year imprisoned a man for four months for singing a controversial song before a soccer match, O’Neill says that there are many laws that can land people in hot water for speaking their minds. For example, he says that England has among the worst libel laws in Europe.
And he would know, too. His previous employer, Living Marxism (later rebranded as LM), shut down in 2000 after losing a notorious libel lawsuit.
In England, unlike the United States, the libel laws are greatly weighted in favor of the person who sues, says O’Neill, who notes that about 80 percent of libel actions go in favor of the person suing. As a result, he regularly considers the libel laws when editing content for spiked.
“It’s a rich man’s law, which is used to silence criticism, and political views, and difficult, awkward views that people don’t like,” he says.
spiked counts as part of its mission the defense of “freedom of speech with no ifs and buts” because, as O’Neill says, “as soon as you give an inch on freedom of speech, they will take a mile.”
But, despite the United Kingdom’s countervailing laws, O’Neill says that the argument in favor of freedom of speech “still has real purchase and real power.” And until those censorship laws are struck down and threats to free speech are extinguished, O’Neill says spiked will keep making those arguments.
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