CNN has issued an apology after one of its on-air pundit called Julian Assange a Pedophile. Wikileaks threatened to sue for what would be clear defamation if untrue. However, that might not be the end of possible litigation. Another guest appears to have made the same allegation and the first pundit, Philip Mudd, a former CIA agent and CNN counterterrorism analyst, could still be sued in his own right.
We have been discussing the crackdown on “fake news,” including my view that this has become the latest rationale for various countries to rollback on free speech, including most recently top lawyers in Italy. This includes the question yesterday of whether newspaper like the Washington Post could be charged as the purveyors of “fake news.” Now that speculation appears to be reality in China where Apple took down the App for the New York Times, a move assumed to be part of China’s transparent campaign against what it deems “fake news” — which obviously means real news revealing truths about the authoritarian regime. Critics have charged that Apple has agreed to be the agent of censorship in order to pursue business in China. In the meantime, government controlled newspapers have invited the New York Times to “reflect” on it being barred from the App store. Not surprisingly, the Obama Administration’s effort to limit free speech has not gone unnoticed by the Chinese, who are citing the Obama policies (and new propaganda office) as support for its own legitimacy as an authoritarian system.
The decline of free speech around the world is accelerating at such a rate that it can produce truly disorienting effects. Take the latest lawsuit by the Turkish Chess Federation (TSF). Chess players were the target of an Islamic extremist televangelist who told Muslims that playing chess is more sinful than gambling. It was yet another absurd declaration from a religious fanatic that should be answered with mocking disbelief. Instead, TSF moved from being a victim to being a violator with a lawsuit against Ahmet Mahmut Ünlü, popularly known as “Cübbeli Ahmet Hoca” (Robbed Ahmet Hoca). The group reportedly began “legal proceedings” over the comments, which should be protected as an exercise of free speech.
We have been discussing the crackdown on “fake news,” including my view that this has become the latest rationale for various countries to rollback on free speech. Now Italy has has joined this ignoble list of Western countries using the ill-defined problem of “fake news” to justify the criminalization of speech and regulation of the Internet. Giovanni Pitruzzella, head of the Italian Competition Authority (an anti-trust body), has called for a crackdown by the European Union.
I recently wrote about the growing threat of government regulation of speech on the Internet under the guise of combatting “fake news.” Germany has been ground zero for civil libertarians for the rollback of free speech. German Chancellor Angela Merkel long ago established herself as a menace to free speech, particularly in her decision to first apologize to authoritarian Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan for a satirical poem and then approve the prosecution of the comedian is a shocking and chilling disgrace. Now, Germany is considering imposing a legal regime that would allow fining social networks such as Facebook up to 500,000 euros ($522,000) for each day the platform leaves a “fake news” story up without deleting it. Governments have finally found a vehicle to get citizens to allow them to curtail or chill speech — ironically in the name of facilitating “real news” or “truth.” It is perfectly Orwellian and Merkel’s latest contribution to the erosion of free speech in the West. I recently discussed the issue as part of an interesting segment with Ted Koppel.
Drexel University professor George Ciccariello-Maher has caused a firestorm of controversy by tweeting how “All I Want for Christmas is White Genocide.” He then followed up with a taunting clarification that “To clarify: when the whites were massacred during the Haitian revolution, that was a good thing indeed.” Drexel has said that it respects the professor’s right to free speech but has called him into for a meeting. Ciccariello-Maher maintains that he was using satire to taunt white supremacists.
We have long discussed the rapid decline of free speech protections in the West. I have long argued that the West appears to have fallen out of love with free speech, which is more often viewed as a rising scourge rather than a defining value in some countries. That trend was reinforced by Israel this week, which became the latest country to criminalize some statements on social media. A new law would give the government the ability to move against any speech deemed as threatening or encouraging violence to be “removed immediately.” The law would cover the dangerously ambiguous category of language deemed “incitement.”