We flatter ourselves into believing that we are more liberated than our stuffy ancestors. A sobering corrective to modern self-satisfaction is to realise that an ex-Muslim novelist would never now dare do what Salman Rushdie did with The Satanic Verses and write a book that said the life of Muhammad was less than exemplary. Even if he or she did, no one would dare publish it.
Also with regard to the various fat-cats against whom the original yellow journalists fought:
In Britain’s case, any writer who had tried to research a book on the rapacious and authoritarian managers at the Royal Bank of Scotland or HBOS, for instance, or on the insanely reckless derivative swap and insurance markets in the London-based subsidiaries of Wall Street banks, would have run into the libel law. It is some barrier to overcome. The cost of a libel action in England and Wales is 140 times the European average. Contrary to common law and natural justice, the burden of proof is on the defendant. Even the few remaining wealthy newspapers, which have business models that have not yet been destroyed by the Internet, find it hard to afford a court case.
The conclusion is less satisfactory:
Editors are no longer frightened of politicians but of Islamist violence, oligarchs and CEOs. They worry about libel and the ability of the wealthy to bend the ear of their proprietors or withdraw advertising. But they are not frightened about leaking the secrets or criticising the actions of elected governments.
We need new ways of thinking about censorship. The first step is the most essential. Only when we have the courage to admit that we are afraid can we begin the task of extending our freedoms.
I dislike this because it seems to suggest that certain private actions should be made illegal. Certainly radical Muslims should be restrained in their ability to terrorize the rest of the population, and certainly Britain’s libel laws should be reformed. But not even the wealthy should be expected to pay to advertise something that they do not like. That is in itself a kind of censorship, if we’re going to come up with new ways of thinking about that.
But Read the Whole Thing.