On 17th January 2015, I wrote a piece for Sputnik in which I pointed out that the principle of unrestrained free speech Western leaders and Western media said they were defending was one they neither believed in nor practiced as proved by their own laws.
A year later, as I again pointed out for Sputnik, German Chancellor Merkel proved me right by trying to silence a German comedian to appease the wrath of Turkish President Erdogan.
The last few months have however provided a far more comprehensive demonstration of how shallow Western leaders' commitment to free speech really is. For what is the 'fake news' campaign, the attacks on RT and Sputnik, and the campaign to force Facebook and Twitter to censor comments and dissident sites, if not a brazen attack on free speech?
The pretext for this campaign is the truly astonishing claim that the Russian government somehow engineered the election victory of Donald Trump by spreading 'fake news'.
No evidence for this exists, and the claim is absurd. The news in question — the DNC and Podesta emails — is not 'fake', and there is no evidence the Russian government was behind its disclosure. There is no evidence it was this news which swung the election to Donald Trump, and it is impossible to see how the Russian government prior to the event could have foreseen that it would.
Moreover, not only was the news true but its exposure was in the public interest because it showed during an election the methods used by political insiders to try to influence its result.
In no sense did its disclosure violate J.S. Mill's harm principle, which provides the classic liberal justification for restricting or suppressing speech.
In other words what those behind the campaign demand is that news must be disregarded or suppressed if they allege (not prove) a Russian connection, and sites and media agencies which publish it must be harassed or silenced, even if disclosure of the news is in the public interest, and even if the news is true.
A more straightforward call for censorship and attack on free speech it would be impossible to conceive.
This is not what we are seeing now. Instead, a hysteria is being worked up, with preposterous claims Russia somehow influenced the Brexit and Italian referendums, and is scheming to influence the results of the German and French elections, in order to justify the ongoing campaign against Russia, and to back the demand to censor potentially damaging news.
What makes this campaign still more sinister is the way the West’s intelligence agencies — historically no friends of free speech — are being dragged into it. In the process — and contrary to the law — they are being used to try to influence political outcomes in Western countries.
It turns out that I underestimated them.
Perhaps that is not so surprising. After all, it takes peculiar panache to proclaim an undying commitment to the principle of free speech, whilst actually believing in its total opposite.
The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Sputnik.
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