The quote below from the late Christopher Hitchens got me thinking about what is and what isn’t truly offensive and where a line should be drawn.
Do we err on the side of political correctness and watch what we say to each and every person we interact with, nervously hoping that our parlance is up to date with the sensitivities of the day or do we, in the words of the 1st Duke of Wellington, “publish and be damned”?
It used to be so easy when all anyone needed to do was be mindful of the UK defamation laws which cover both the written (libel) and spoken (slander) word as you had to be able to get your hands on the offending material but how easy is it now to unwittingly cause offence (just scroll back across the newspapers for a couple of weeks for that story about Benedict Cumberbatch) given the transparency these days with the use of the internet and social media, not to mention the smart phone.
What’s one persons insult is anothers genuine joke whilst another will be wondering what all the fuss is about.
The written word leaves a record and currently, English law allows for someone (let’s call them “A”) to take action against another (original I know but “B”) in the High Court if B published a statement about A which names or identifies A with comments which could potentially cause A a loss in their trade or profession, or causes a reasonable person to think worse of him, her or them.
There’s not a great deal of legal defence for B as the words are out there although there are possibilities if there is justification, the accusations were related to a spent conviction, B is able to benefit from somekind of legal privilege or, remarkably, a judge rules that it is “fair comment”.
Libel trials are usually costly and time consuming with the burden of proof falling on the defendant i.e. B but where, you might ask, does this leave the English tradition of Free Speech?
Now I’m not a lawyer by any stretch of the imagination so my comments here are my opinion only so, here goes:
I think the line is drawn at the point where someone either knowingly lies or does something maliciously.
There you have it….it fits with my general philosophy of treat as you want to be treated, speak to people as you wish to be spoken to yourself and don’t do harm to others on purpose.
You’ll have seen on my FB page that I get the occasional troll or someone trying to jump on an advert with their own product.
I don’t get offended, I pity them. If people have such empty lives that their main form of entertainment is to make pathetic comments about someone else so be it, it’s not my problem, it’s theirs. I could argue back but what’s the point? It plays into their hands and gives them a reaction they can play to.
Similarly with the piggybacking of adverts, I don’t like it, I think it is unethical and certainly unfair but I don’t take it down, I just comment that I don’t endorse the comment which shows the poster up for what they are…….
and as for taking anyone to court for libel if they defamed me, all I can say is it would be tempting, very tempting but to paraphrase Christopher Hitchens there is no cohesive arguement being made and I’m not running for public office so I don’t have to engage with these people if I don’t want to.
(Before you ask though, I WILL take down and block anyone who says anything generally offensive to the world at large or who makes comments which are illegal).