Censorship in the UK: Freedom of the Press and Social Media Under Attack

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A warning to social-media users not to comment on ongoing legal issues, until after they have been to court and a verdict has been reached, was issued on the morning of December 4, 2013 through the United Kingdom government’s main media tool and sycophant, the BBC, by Attorney General Dominic Grieve. Together with the attacks on The Guardian for its publication of whistle blower Edward Snowden’s revelations on the National Security Agency (NSA) of the United States, this is yet another attempt at censorship and attack on the freedom of the press in the UK.

There is no love lost between Dominic Grieve and myself. I have already called for his resignation over not allowing an inquest into the death of Dr David Kelly, the UK weapons inspector who was found dead in a copse on Harrowdown Hill in July 2003.  It is, or at least was, the law of the land that an inquest should be held for every individual who has not died from natural causes. There are many unanswered questions regarding Dr Kelly’s death, but Mr. Grieve took it upon himself to decide if an inquest was necessary, without judge or jury or coroner or precedent.

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In a BBC interview, Grieve informed the public that there are long-established laws — presumably laws of libel and slander — against publicly defaming people. Of course, defamation of character is unfair, and few would condone it. The law, however, is an ever-changing beast: an ass, Charles Dickens’ Mr Bumble called it; but Bumble, himself a bit of an ass, may well have gone further by giving similar equine epithets to those who uphold it, or rather, those who should uphold it.

Mr. Grieve is a lawyer. His message was apparently not meant for lawyers, though it should have been, because one of the prosecution lawyers in the Julian Assange case has published all kinds of defamatory statements about Assange on her blog and in newspapers.

Grieve argued that taxpayers would be saved the money they would spend if the cases are thrown out and retried over comments made on social media and in blogs. In the clearly-rehearsed and carefully-prepared script, the BBC interviewer then asked the Attorney General if this could not be achieved by getting the social-network providers to issue warnings so that everybody would be aware. Mr Grieve had to agree that this might be a good idea.

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All this self censorship, fake news or agenda news, is galling. While the main legal representative of her majesty’s government was in the studio, he could have been asked the following.

  • Why was there no inquest into the death of Dr David Kelly?
  • Why are key documents about Kelly’s death hidden from public scrutiny for 70 years.
  • Why has the UK government allowed one of its residents, Shaker Aamer, to be held and tortured in Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp without having committed a crime?
  • Why is an Asberger sufferer and prize-winning poet, Talha Ahsan, a UK citizen, being held in a United States maximum security prison in solitary confinement – an existence described as torture – when he had previously spent six years in a UK prison without any charge having been made against him?
  • Why was Talha Ahsan not tried in the UK? Likewise for Babar Ahmad, beaten up by police, held for eight years without charge, then shipped to the US in Theresa May’s despicable package deal, to be held in solitary confinement until forced to plea bargain, the obvious purpose of these extraditions.When these victims of an injudicious system eventually do plea bargain, this will be an admission of guilt from torture.
  • Why is journalist and Wikileaks founder Julian Assange cooped up in the Ecuadorian Embassy when the Swedish prosecution team have been given leave to interview him at the embassy in London, without a need for extradition?

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Less than two weeks earlier the Daily Telegraph’s deputy editor, Benedict Brogan, interviewed the Attorney General about his belief in the “rule of law” and stamping out corruption. In a nauseating piece of sucking up, Brogan, instead of asking some of the above questions, wrote a thinly-disguised attack on the Pakistani community by repeating accusations that Grieve had made in a previous interview with him about corruption being endemic in some social spheres. To his credit, Grieve had the good grace to apologize for denigrating the Pakistani community when more or less obliged to do so, but that was not good enough for Brogan. The article was what might be expected from the Telegraph editorial which, if it was looking for real electoral fraud, might have been better examining the role of Karl Rove in the election of warmonger George W. Bush rather than singling out Asians.

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If Mr. Grieve genuinely wishes to uphold the law and not publish defamatory material on social-media sites and blogs, he should censure attorney Elisabeth Massi Fritz. Ms. Fritz has her own legal firm in Sweden. She has represented the family of Prime Minister Reinfeldt and has taken over as legal representative of S. W., one of the co-accusers of Julian Assange. On her blog, Fritz has posted an article by an embittered former Wikileaks employee, James Ball, that grossly misrepresents an interview of Julian Assange by John Humphreys. Instead of checking the facts for herself, she chose to publish an article that appears to breach Sweden’s legal code of practice. Her office has also issued press statements that differ for the Swedish press compared to the international press and are therefore political. This is why a letter has been sent to the Swedish Bar Association calling for an investigation.

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Ms. Fritz has also spoken to newspapers about the Assange case, and the resulting articles and her statements have always been critical of the Wikileaks founder. Assange, who has not been charged with any crime, should not have derogatory and defamatory statements made against him by an attorney involved in the case. This is most improper.

  • Should attorney Elisabeth Massi Fritz be talking to the press?
  • Should she be publishing unverified articles on her own firm’s blog?

These are questions that might be reasonably be put to Dominic Grieve. The more likely reason for Mr Grieve’s challenge to social-media practice is to limit the rights of the free press, like News Junkie Post for example, that published the names of Julian Assange’s two accusers when the mainstream media failed to do so. Another reason might be to attack individual bloggers who seek real justice. The names of Assange’s accusers were public knowledge long before News Junkie Post mentioned them, and it seems one-sided that Assange should be misrepresented by the legal profession while his accusers are free.

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The Attorney General’s long-term goal is to extricate the UK from the European Commission on Human Rights and create what he calls a Bill of Rights. Well, we can guess what this means by comparing it with the way the US has not been a signatory to the International Criminal Court so it can torture people in Guantanamo and ensconce UK citizens in US Supermax torture chambers. The long-term aims of David Cameron are as they were for Labor: to have similar supermax prisons in the UK. The stumbling blocks are money and opposition from people who care: especially the free press.

Editor’s Note: All photographs by Free Press.

 

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