Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Political Outrage and Free Speech.

The furore surrounding the 15 British sailors captured by Iran and their subsequent selling of their stories to newspapers, is very telling of how the political system works in Britain. It illustrates how the right wing tabloids are allowed to control the political debate and even dictate government decisions.

More interesting, however, is the fact that no one seems to question whether the Defence Sectary had any right to ban the sailors from selling their stories. Even the Guardian, in today's leader, calls the initial decision of allowing the sailors to sell their stories, as "jaw-droppingly inept".

Yet, I must wonder how the government of country, which claims to adhere to human rights, can arbitrarily limit the sailors free speech and their freedom to contract. Forbidding individuals from receiving compensation for publishing their stories is a severe limitation of freedom of speech.

Of course British citizens do not have any constitutional rights which cannot be taken away by Parliament, but the UK has signed up to the European Convention of Human Rights. Article 8 of that convention states that "Everyone has the right to freedom of expression" and restrictions of this right are only allowed when such restrictions "are necessary in a democratic society, in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, for the protection of the reputation or rights of others, for preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, or for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary."

The European Court of Human Rights, which is the judicial guardian of the convention, has consistently held that while certain limitations of freedoms are inherent in military service (see Kalac v. Turkey), such limitations must be "proportionate to the legitimate aim pursued" (see Smith & Grady v. UK).

Since the Ministry of Defence had decided that national security was not threatened by the sailors telling their stories, there is no good reason for them not to receive money for doing so. Neither national security nor public order was threatened by the sailors contracting with The Sun. While protection of the Royal Navy's image may be described as a legitimate aim relating to national security, it is not proportionate to so severely limit the sailors free speech.


At 18 April, 2007 10:15, Blogger karlund said...

This is exactly what I thought the first time I heard that the MoD allowed them to sell their story!
Why should that be a question at all? Only if the national security was at stake should they do that, but that was hardly the case in this situation...

At 18 April, 2007 20:01, Blogger Torsten Pedersen said...

Thank you Karlund, I thought it was only me who questioned the MoD actions. Its scary no-one has raised this point in the public debate.


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