The single most chilling line from the Tory culture secretary’s speech on censoring the internet

Jeremy Wright
Avatar

The embattled Conservative minority government has announced plans to censor the internet. On 8 April, culture secretary Jeremy Wright delivered a speech at the British Library at the launch of the Online Harms white paper. And one particularly chilling line stood out.

“Bad behaviour”

Wright said that the government would outright ban websites through:

a regulatory approach designed to encourage good behaviour as well as to punish bad behaviour.

Start your day with The Canary News Digest

Fresh and fearless; get excellent independent journalism from The Canary, delivered straight to your inbox every morning.




Chillingly, this looks like the state preparing to censor content it perceives as negative or unfavourable. The white paper proposals seek to establish an ‘independent’ body to enact the regulation. But it’s unclear who will define “good” and “bad” behaviour on the internet and on what basis. It’s also unclear how the body will be truly independent and representative of the diversity of opinion on the internet. As well as blocking websites, other punishments will include “substantial fines” and “meaningful sanctions”.

Disinformation is not new

Wright also lists ‘undermining civil discourse’ as one of the ways the internet can be a problem:

In many ways it is a powerful force for good. It can forge connections, share knowledge and spread opportunity across the world.

But it can also be used to promote terrorism, undermine civil discourse, spread disinformation, and abuse or bully.

But if the civil discourse is legitimate then it should be able to withstand criticism. And when it comes to promoting terrorism and disinformation, that’s not a problem which simply arose with the internet. The corporate media promoted the government’s disinformation campaign to terrorise Iraq and privatise its oil supplies. The declassified Iraq media strategy shines a light on this:

 

Former foreign office head of news John Williams wrote that letter over a year before the government declared war. The strategy specifically focused on “papers like the Guardian” to give greater legitimacy to the “weapons of mass destruction” fabrication.

Free speech on the internet, meanwhile, can act as an important counterbalance to such disinformation. Responding to the government’s new plans, Jim Killock, executive director of the Open Rights Group, said:

The government’s proposals would create state regulation of the speech of millions of British citizens. We have to expect that the duty of care will end up widely drawn, with serious implications for legal content that is deemed potentially risky, whether it really is nor not.

The proposals also risk breaking binding international law. The UK is a member of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. And Article 19 states:

1. Everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference.

2. Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.

The Conservative government rails against a ‘nanny state’ when it comes to education, healthcare and the rights of disabled people. But, at the same time, it’s quite happy to spy indiscriminately on British people and censor the internet. Given the partnership between the traditional media and pro-establishment government, these proposals must be met with extreme caution.

Featured image via YouTube – Bloomberg

Since you're here ...

We know you don't need a lecture. You wouldn't be here if you didn't care.
Now, more than ever, we need your help to challenge the rightwing press and hold power to account. Please help us survive and thrive.

The Canary Support
  • Show Comments
    1. Well, this has always been on the cards with a Tory Government hasn’t it? They already have a ready made propaganda machine with the MSM (any Dictator would be proud of such a propaganda machine I’m sure). However, the problem is the truth is getting out via social media, the internet and twitter causing this corrupt Tory Government all sorts of problems and changing the public narrative.

      If they are serious about harmful civil discourse then they should be putting in place legal regulations and a regulator with teeth for the MSM – who are the mass purveyors of fake news, disinformation, outright lies and who take money from this Government to run a smear campaign against the Leader of the Opposition. Not just a case of double standards but more like imposed Censorship to any dissent from this Government’s narrative. One Party State, we are almost here.

    2. Meanwhile, the MSM is free to spend the last two years attempting to persuade us that the President of the US is a Kremlin agent, and that the Russians managed to rig the elections with $100,000 worth of internet advertising, compared to the $81,000,000 spent by Clinton and Trump on the same. If you had advanced this opinion before it became official hysteria you would rightly have been deemed bat shit crazy. Apparently that narrative is more plausible than the one that contends that Hillary Clinton lost 10 million Democrat votes because the party has long since abandoned its core, blue collar constituency. Good to know that we are going to be protected from evil forces that seek to corrupt and misinform a world view shaped by journalistic standards as high as these.

    3. Well done on reporting this dubious move on the Government to censor dissent. When the Tory Jeremy Wright simply says its direction is control bad/good behavior you know this is what they have in mind.
      A coup of democracy is being tried by these people.
      Also the fact the 6.5 million signature to Revoke Article 50 never made it to the Commons. The people signing this far out number all the political parties combined. The disrespect for democracy shows they are simply are longer interested in encouraging or nuturing it.

    4. you do know that millions of people across the world signed
      that petition, including the pope, don’t you? I’m absolutely sure
      they were they all qualified registered UK voters.

    Leave a Reply

    Join the conversation

    Please read our comment moderation policy here.