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Are you offended?

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  • Are you offended?

    Over the last year or so a trend seems to have been developing here in the UK that is increasingly worrying to me. Multiple people now have been arrested for causing offence in varying ways. Most of these transgressions have been online, usually on social media and usually involve some bad taste joke or remark. There has also been the whole pleb-gate thing and the t-shirt in Manchester regarding the murdered police women. All these crimes have involved the criminal charge of causing offence.

    Now, I feel really stupid, because I've lived nearly 40 years without realising that there was such a law... am I the only person not to realise this? I myself have had reason for calling a policeman a pig before now (and didn't get arrested) - just as well I didn't call him a pleb instead! It's interesting that only a year ago a simillar incident was dismissed from court as the judge couldn't see how swearing could cause any reasonable harm to a police officer. But the online thing really worries me and seems to be triggering a specific law that is being used in a heavy-handed manner and largely out of context from what it was intended. I tried Googling the actual law (it was mentioned on Newsnight last week) but I couldn't find it.

    No doubt Miscellaneans from the US must be scratching their head over this as I guess the idea of 'offence' is covered in the rights to free speech and the constitution, etc... But over in the UK it would seem that something that causes offence is now considered to actually cause physical harm to the offendee and thus offensive offenders need to be locked up for the good of society and the faint hearted. I have a feeling that our culture of offence-sensitivity originates in political correctness and cultural relativism and has now been extended into the wider public to mean that we all have some right not to be offended by anything.

    Personally, I have a theory that being offended is just your brains way of telling you that you are an idiot.

    Anyway, to my mind these news stories have been the narrative of 2012. Anyone else concerned? Or not?
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  • #2
    You've raised an interesting point TEA, one that has been bothering me for a little while.

    There are a number of examples in the recent past of a sort of collective taking of offence at apparently trivial things. One example is the furore that blew up when Jonathan Ross and his Essex sidekick whose name I can't be bothered to recall phoned Andrew Sachs' voicemail late at night and left childish messages on it regarding his granddaughter. It generated thousands of complaints to the BBC and cost Ross his job, but a very small number of the complainants actually heard the offending radio show. The story gathered pace through the media and took on a life of its own.

    Similarly with plebgategate ( he allegedly called the copper a pleb whilst trying to pass through a gate, hence plebgategate), the MP apologised to the bobby, who accepted the apology. Case closed, one might think. But no. The media have taken it up and now people are officially OFFENDED!

    These are trivial examples of offence being taken where none really exists, whipped up by a media with space to fill and time on its hands. However, the point you make about posting offensive things on Twatter and Faceblurt is a different kettle of worms.

    Racism, sexism, homophobia and inciting religious hatred are all existing offences and anyone making statements of these types on the internet should be brought to book for doing so.

    People make such statements expecting to get a reaction and thinking that they can hide behind the anonymity of their computer screen. The sooner they realise that there is a good chance they'll get caught the better.

    Anyone who wears a t shirt celebrating the deaths of two serving police officers murdered in the line of duty is a scumbag who deserves to have whatever book the judge can get his or her hands on thrown straight at them. If the offence with which they are charged is that of causing an offence then so be it.

    Freedom of speech comes with responsibility and if people are too stupid or immature to be able to exercise that right without taking responsibility for their actions then they deserve what's coming.

    Rant over. I'll go back to my Daily Mail now.

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    • #3
      Yeah, I'm scratching my head. Sounds like a crappy law. Though I do think libel laws should apply to the Internet, as it is a publishing platform even though people tend to think of it as 'speech'.

      Comment


      • #4
        I agree with EA that being offended is just your brain telling you that you are an idiot!
        Theres the obvious exceptions that PV rightly pointed out but a few months back i had the local stasi at my door giving me a warning because i had called my neighbour a muppet(for multiple reasons)and apparently he was entitled to do this.
        But credit where credits due,both coppers agreed with me(that he was a character from a favourite show created by Jim Henson) but told me they would still have to caution me and they did smile when i said to them if thats the case then i was offended by their insinuation that i was a criminal!!
        Where does this PC bollocks end?
        Is this country slowly but surely turning into the flagship nation of spineless whiners?
        OK rant over im away back to my Peoples Friend magazine(theres some skullbaking knitting patterns on page23!)
        Last edited by thingfish; 10-15-2012, 11:06 AM.
        "I hate to advocate drugs,alcohol,violence or insanity to anyone,but they've always worked for me"

        Hunter S Thompson

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        • #5
          OMG! You can't even call someone a bloody muppet these days! Look I'm not into name calling per se, but let's be honest in the midst of a heated argument a husband might call his wife a "bitch" and she might call him a "bastard" - do we arrest them? Or do we assume that they were just caught up in the moment... If calling someone a name is part of a larger picture of bullying then that's a different matter and should be (and is) illegal.

          TBH I'd go further than porcus - I don't have a problem with someone wearing an insensitive t-shirt about dead policewomen, because if I have a problem with that then how do I justify NWA's F**k da Police or Bodycount's Copkiller? There's no way to square that circle as far as I can see... I'm not saying I like the t-shirt, but does someone deserve to be put in prison for a long time over it? I think we already lock up far too many people in this country without adding more for expressing an opinion in bad taste or that I disagree with.

          When i was at school every time there was a big news story/disaster (the Challenger disaster particularly comes to mind) an endless number of bad taste jokes would circulate the school... should we caution every adolescent school boy for saying the same bad taste jokes as someone else says on Twitter or a t-shirt? If not, why not?

          Sorry, but to my mind there are no exceptions to free speech, because as soon as you have an exception then you no longer have it any more.

          It would be different if the offender phoned the victims family and said "I'm glad they're dead" or racially attacked them or whatever, as that would be emotionally distressing, verbally intimidating and harassment. However to just express an opinion in generic way on a forum, a social network or even on a t-shirt seems fair play to me. Most people find swastikas offensive, so should Sid Vicious have been arrested for wearing one? I mean 6 million dead beats two dead police women.

          I'm not sure if the Brand/Ross-gate phone thing exactly fits the offence debate (or maybe it does). People might have been offended by it, but to my mind I think the problem was: should the BBC be paying people to crank call someone and publicly humiliate them? That's not offensive, it's bullying, isn't it? The remarks said were not problematic because they were offensive (even if they were), but because they were personally malicious. Also, even if offence was the motivator for the complaints, it still wasn't a criminal matter. I think it is fine for an employer to consider certain behaviour is unacceptable and as the the BBC is basically a public service then it seems fair that the public should be able to express its distaste. If I work for a firm and I swear on the job and that's against the firms rules then, as they're paying my wages, it seems fair that they can discipline me. However, I shouldn't be arrested for it. It's unprofessional, not criminal.

          However I do accept the wider point that when these hoards complain they often do so for other reasons. I know a few people who complained about the BBC interview with the Uncut guy in the wheelchair who got pushed over by the police. I saw the interview and saw nothing wrong with it. Coincidentally everyone I know who did complain is massively opposed to the cuts and to my mind were using the interview as a proxy war against the government/police rather than complaining over anything intrinsically wrong with the actual interview. I think the Big Brother racism thing went along similar lines: they didn't like the racism, so they complained to Channel Four for showing us the racism.

          Let me say, despite my opening flippant post, I'm not opposed to people expressing their offence at a remark (I'm not offended by offence!). Of course, everyone should be able to say that they consider anything put in the public domain unacceptable if that is how they feel. I just don't think anybody should be locked up or criminalise or ban anyone for saying anything offensive... and imo that includes racist, sexist and homophobic comments. That's not to say that racist et al name calling or bullying is acceptable or should be legal, but if someone wants to express their hate for a given demographic by using 'offensive' terms in a generic way then I'd sooner have the right to hear them than not. I certainly don't want people locked up for it.

          I'm trying to think of any times that I have complained about something that the media has done. Well, I added my name to the petition for Newsnight to apologies to that single mum who they, in my opinion, bullied and made to look like she was a scrounger on national tv. It worked, after several months they eventually apologised for it. And the other time has more in common with the murdered police women, I suppose. BBC news were reporting on a a very nasty serial rapist (he also infected women with HIV), who mainly attacked prostitutes, although not exclusively. The reporter described it by saying "he attacked prostitutes and decent women," which obviously infers that the prostitutes weren't decent and probably deserved it. In both cases I don't think I was offended, I just don't think it is the media's position to sit on judgement or embarrass ordinary people who don't have a right to reply. If someone cracked a bad taste joke about either of these things then I wouldn't have complained.

          Woooaaahhh.... that's along post!
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          • #6
            I would suggest this is a good example of you are guilty before being proven innocent rather than vice versa. Possibly we should call it the privatisation of common sense by enclosuring all implied 'rights' and 'duties' you create a bureaucracy to control the results, which creates more rules to define the definitions and then repeat until tyranny.

            I suspect that certain parts of the media have their own agendas that they use certain news stories to beat their opponents and use a hysterical response to achieve their goal.

            Guido Fawkes carried an interesting titbit that the whole Jimmy Savile saga was shelved by the BBC because of Levenson. That a lot of reporters knew but weren't prepared to be 'published and be damned', especially after we saw what happened to Andrew Gilligan.

            If you can generate enough hot air about a topic for people to take notice. I liked the comment about the protests against Google Youtube's infamous video - Of the Innocence of Muslims about where were the women protesters and the reporter being told at the back. Now whether that is true or not, it is a rather witty comment.

            Jonathan Ross did over step the line and deserved what he got. Though i don't think he suffered too much and the DM had been gunning for him for some time.

            Anyway, off to look at the Daily (Mail) Brooks now.
            Papa was a Rolling Stone......

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            • #7
              Originally posted by Pebble View Post
              I would suggest this is a good example of you are guilty before being proven innocent rather than vice versa. Possibly we should call it the privatisation of common sense by enclosuring all implied 'rights' and 'duties' you create a bureaucracy to control the results, which creates more rules to define the definitions and then repeat until tyranny.
              Absolutely Pebble!
              "I hate to advocate drugs,alcohol,violence or insanity to anyone,but they've always worked for me"

              Hunter S Thompson

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              • #8


                It does sound like a dumb law. There is an approximate American equivalent, and it's very hard to define apparently, something called "fighting words". But the problem with these sorts of things, they are all so "eye of the beholder" that you end up with haphazard (or even selective) enforcement/prosecution.
                The Ralph Retort

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                • #9
                  TEA is right about the apparent pettiness of some of the applications of this offence of causing offence, but there's also the element of control over the internet that should be taken into account.

                  The internet is currently like the Wild West in that it is uncontrolled, with no laws and no legal authority. Thus you get cyber bullies, hackers and thieves merauding around cyber space doing as they please. There are numerous examples of things as trivial as Facebook parties being hijacked by gatecrashers to events as serious as emotionally vulnerable teenagers taking their own lives after anonymous bullying on social media.

                  To some extent I think the offence of causing offence has been brought about in an attempt to gain control over the use of social media and what's being said and done on them.

                  TEA is also right that freedom of speech is a fundamental right of all, but so is the right to be offended. It's all about the balance of proportionality (that sounds suspiciously like an American word).

                  The American film maker has every right to make films about the Muslim faith and its prophet. However, Muslims around the world also have every right to be offended by his doing so. The debate really begins around his motives for making the film and the scale of the response. If he made the film to be provocative he achieved his goal, but at what cost? And is the response of murdering the US Ambassador to Lybia really in proportion to the offence?
                  Last edited by Pietro_Mercurios; 10-15-2012, 09:15 PM.

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                  • #10
                    On lighter note.....

                    Looks like Thingfish is hip and uptodate with his insults....

                    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/arti...-backlash.html

                    Although, we better not mention the Stasi again.

                    Papa was a Rolling Stone......

                    Comment


                    • #11

                      Waldorf and Statler...now theres two prophets of common-sense right there!
                      Im not sure about regulating the internet PV,you end up with the age old question of who's regulating the regulators,eventually leading to tyranny.
                      The thing about the internet is you can always just switch the bugger off!
                      "I hate to advocate drugs,alcohol,violence or insanity to anyone,but they've always worked for me"

                      Hunter S Thompson

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                      • #12
                        Has the serious crime rate been going down?

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                        • #13
                          If only H!
                          "I hate to advocate drugs,alcohol,violence or insanity to anyone,but they've always worked for me"

                          Hunter S Thompson

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                          • #14
                            Originally posted by porcus_volans View Post

                            The internet is currently like the Wild West in that it is uncontrolled, with no laws and no legal authority. Thus you get cyber bullies, hackers and thieves merauding around cyber space doing as they please.

                            ...

                            To some extent I think the offence of causing offence has been brought about in an attempt to gain control over the use of social media and what's being said and done on them.

                            TEA is also right that freedom of speech is a fundamental right of all, but so is the right to be offended. It's all about the balance of proportionality (that sounds suspiciously like an American word).

                            The American film maker has every right to make films about the Muslim faith and its prophet. However, Muslims around the world also have every right to be offended by his doing so. The debate really begins around his motives for making the film and the scale of the response. If he made the film to be provocative he achieved his goal, but at what cost? And is the response of murdering the US Ambassador to Lybia really in proportion to the offence?
                            You raise some good points, although I concur with thingfish, who gets to decide these things. I actually like the wild west side of the internet. I like the fact that it's largely unregulated. It's basically anarchy. It's not perfect, but in general it works pretty well - especially the web 2.0 side of it - the forums, the social networks, wikis, etc... I totally agree that hackers and cyber bullies et al are a blight, but surely these things are all illegal anyway regardless of the medium. I guess the internet makes jurisdiction an additional complexity, as the subtext of today's news story indicates (a crime against one country being committed in another), but these are criminal matters and imo offence shouldn't come into it. But yes, I think these heavy handed sentences are part panic mode by the institutions of the old world trying to control the uncontrollable world of the nu media and part magistrates overreacting to the public's moral outrage. We saw the same after the riots with disproportionately severe sentences for crimes that would otherwise have received minimal penalties.

                            And yes, people have a right to be offended, but not to the extent that people's rights to potentially cause offence are taken away. I have to applause the reaction of British Muslims to the suspect film (not something I always do tbh): they voiced their protest, but in moderation. I know of no violence caused in protest about this film in the UK. However the wider global reaction, to my mind, only illustrates the point: the film itself caused absolutely no harm to those offended by it - but the reaction against the film causes actual damage. In this case it caused death and destruction, but I think the damage is more insidious than that: it makes people scared to voice their opinions and limits free speech for everyone.
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                            • #15
                              Sorry for the double post.

                              They were discussing this issue on Radio 4 today and they mentioned the law in question. Out of interest, here it is:

                              Improper use of postal and electronic communications
                              Improper use of public electronic communications network - Communications Act 2003, section 127


                              The Communications Act 2003 section 127, see Stones 8.30110B, covers the sending of improper messages. Section 127(1)(a) relates to a message etc that is grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character and should be used for indecent phone calls and emails. Section 127(2) targets false messages and persistent misuse intended to cause annoyance, inconvenience or needless anxiety; it includes somebody who persistently makes silent phone calls (usually covered with only one information because the gravamen is one of persistently telephoning rendering separate charges for each call unnecessary).

                              If a message sent is grossly offensive, indecent, obscene, menacing or false it is irrelevant whether it was received. The offence is one of sending, so it is committed when the sending takes place. The test for "grossly offensive" was stated by the House of Lords in DPP v Collins [2006] 1 WLR 2223 to be whether the message would cause gross offence to those to whom it relates (in that case ethnic minorities), who need not be the recipients. The case also said that it is justifiable under ECHR Art 10(2) to prosecute somebody who has used the public telecommunications system to leave racist messages.

                              A person guilty of an offence under section 127 CA 2003 shall be liable, on summary conviction, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months or to a fine or to both. This offence is part of the fixed penalty scheme.

                              It is more appropriate to charge bomb hoaxes under section 51 of the Criminal Law Act 1977.

                              See Chambers v Director of Public Prosecutions [2012] EWHC 2157 (QB) and Public Order Offences, elsewhere in the Legal Guidance.

                              Section 127 can be used as an alternative offence to such crimes for example as hate crime (including race, religion, disability, homophobic, sexual orientation, and transphobic crime), hacking offences, cyber bullying, cyber stalking, amongst others.
                              Taken from here.

                              And an interesting comment here.

                              Apparently Section 127 originates from a law designed to protect phone operators from dirty phone calls. It was shoehorned into the electronic coms act, but of course with no consideration that such things as social media might exist or be so widespread. It is thought that thousands of "grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character" comments are made on social media every week - yet obviously only a tiny fraction are prosecuted. Can it be right to target a few individuals just because they say something mean about a big news story rather than something more obscure?

                              I really find this law grossly offensive - can I prosecute?
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