old salut!

Colin Randall wrote here on France, things Anglo-French and more......but has moved

February 13, 2007

No offence (4)

This site has now moved to Salut!

Confirmation has appeared here over the past two days, if I needed it, that lots of people do not really believe in free speech.

Richard of Orléans will forgive the thought that he would not be everyone's choice to lecture on the importance of expressing opinions without the least hint of rudeness.

No, I have not seen the Irish News article in full. I gave the flavour of it, as best I could from perusal of news reports (using sources I regard as usually dependable), and made it clear that the review contained further criticisms.

I do not even know if the article can be viewed on any news databases, given that it led to a libel action and newspaper librarians tend to get jumpy in such circumstances. Added point: you can read more about this in Roy Greenslade's blog at the Guardian Media website.

But my argument did not rest on the precise nature of the criticism. I was more concerned with the principle.

Take away a critic's right to criticise and you may as well empty whole shelves of public libraries, forbid serious discussion of any artistic, sporting or other human endeavour and ban Simon Cowell from the air. Well, maybe the last reference wasn't my strongest point.

The blogosphere seems, at first thought, an odd place for people to be applauding ferocious penalties for those who express views they find unpalatable.

But when you study some of the more obscene libel awards made particularly but not always by juries, it is not so surprising after all.

Since Britain, I am pleased to say, is still a newspaper reading country, many of the jurors taking part in the exercise are likely themselves to be avid consumers of the press.

Bill Taylor refers to critics on major Canadian papers (this is an amended reference; see my comment) making repeat visits before a stridently critical restaurant view appears and this seems eminently sensible and fair.

The fact that it would still not be enough for some, more concerned with clipping the wings of journalists, rather supports the opening lines of this post.

Labels: , , , , ,

This site has now moved to Salut!


At February 13, 2007 8:44 PM, Blogger Bill Taylor said...

There's a world of difference between a professional critic offering an informed appraisal, good or bad, and someone who simply has a prejudicial axe to grind.
It's usually those who read the tabloid media most voraciously who also complain about it the loudest (the people, for instance, who professed to loathe the coverage of Princess Di's death could invariably quote it verbatim) and want to rein in the papers and punish their staff. So the likelihood of this jury being "avid consumers of the press" was never anything more than a very mixed blessing.

At February 13, 2007 10:56 PM, Blogger richard of orleans said...

There is nothing like the journalists ganging up when they feel their dictatorial powers are under threat.

Excuse me for not giving a critical analysis of the level of a student doing PPE at Balliol but here goes.

Why is free speech a good thing beyond making Bill’s and Colin’s life easy? I would say there are two reasons. One is liberty; the other is the press as a counter power to the other institutional powers.

As far as liberty is concerned we already accept that we can’t do whatever we want if it restricts other people’s liberty. I am not at liberty to rape my neighbour’s wife. Whereas that particular lack of liberty is not controversial others are, for example the ‘liberty’ to work 50 hours per week for my boss. Liberty is not absolute but relative and slippery. But as an individual I freely accept that I am not able to say whatever I like wherever I like, nor sell heroine. ie I am ‘clipped’ why not journalists?

Are yes but I am merely an ordinary citizen, ‘not a professional critic’, whose wings should remain ‘unclipped’. That seems a very aristocratic view of society and betrays your national origins. No since the journalist has much greater power and is indeed a professional so he should accept far greater control over his liberty to say what he wants. Every profession has its deontology, why not journalism (yes it does, but it seems rather too fluid and optional). Why can the Telegraph deceivingly mix fact with opinion in a way that would not be acceptable to the New York Times? Why in that case can the Telegraph and the Economist not be taken to court for incitement to war (to use an instance which has nothing to do with the tabloid press) without the journalistic brotherhood throwing their arms up in horror at the constraints on free speech. For what is being constrained, in that instance, is not ‘free speech’ but the peddling of opinions under the pretext of news and the abuse of power.

No free speech is like liberty, it is not an absolute and it is for society to determine to what extent we can say whatever comes into our head.However much we may believe it is an honestly held opinion.(Mein Kampf was honest opinion also) Why not citizens juries? Or are they too plebeian? Afterall journalists are like priests, there are some black sheep. Maybe more blackness amongst the former than the latter.

At February 13, 2007 11:12 PM, Blogger Robert Marchenoir said...

There seems to be a worrying trend here in France, of corporations starting to sue disgruntled customers for libel when they dare to complain collectively about rotten service.

The TV/Internet/phone provider Noos has just done that. Noos in now famous for suspending service for days on end without explanation, wildly overcharging, and being unavailable to cope with the aftermath through its hotline.

As a result, some angry customers created an association to pressure the company, set up a Web site, and (I think) sued them.

Noos stroke back with the libel charge.

This has happened at least once before. I do not remember the company involved, but the case was similar: an Internet business with dismal customer service, no action taken to correct things, customers unite, raise hell through a Web site, and the vendor slaps them with a libel suit -- or maybe it was for trademark infringement that time, you know the drill: you have used our name on your site without permission, blah blah blah.

I wonder if this way of adding insult to injury is commonplace in the Anglo-American world, where the paying customer seems to be getting more respect, and if this is the French way of giving you the worst of both worlds: the ruthlessness of big business, without the protection that comes from free speech and striving to provide good service to the customer.

I should add that Noos, as far as I know, has close to 100% of the TV cable market. That's capitalism without competition. These people seem to think that the customer has only the right to pay up and shut up. Making a fuss because his money is being stolen off his bank account is a major crime.

It seems to me that Colin Randall had experienced himself the rotten service of Noos in Paris some time ago.

At February 13, 2007 11:27 PM, Blogger Bill Taylor said...

I would give Richard's argument far more credence, were it not for his utterly absurd opening statement (even by his own sometimes outrageous standards of satire) about journalists "ganging up when they feel their dictatorial powers are under threat."

At February 14, 2007 12:55 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Colin Randall needs to mend his bent eyeglasses if he thinks he read Bill Taylor referring to The Toronto Star in his comment "major newspapers here"(giving restaurant reviews).He did not specify The Toronto Star,so no need for CR to use boathooks to get his yacht to the pier.

Ok.So you gave it some "flavour"...The Irish News stuff.
Well, then flavour it some more by stating in the first place that you had not read the originial piece.
We're not ketchup fans,we want mustard,relish and onions........all dressed as they say in Bermuda.

At February 14, 2007 1:08 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

My favourite delight.
A name ,that comes in the night.
Always smooth and sensible,cares not to fight.
Explains with reason and puts writing right.
Patience,sometimes humour,calm.erudite.

A Valentine.

Robert Marchenoir

At February 14, 2007 10:06 AM, Blogger richard of orleans said...

Argghh what is this? A school of English journalists. Yes I’ll avoid the offending word ‘gang’, but there are schools and schools. Do I detect a pinch of English perfidy left over from the Christmas turkey? I am called ‘rude’ in that convoluted language which the English perfect, to avoid saying openly their meaning. And ‘outrageous’.

Why? Simply because I give my honest opinion on a size zero country.

What about free speech????

From the Bernard Matthews internet site:

“If you've enjoyed a Christmas lunch where the hostess appears relaxed, confident and stress free then they could be one of the millions who puts their trust in Bernard Matthews.

With over 50 years' experience, Bernard Matthews is the expert when it comes to turkey and so the brand to trust at Christmas.

‘Bringing everything together is the key’, says Bernard”

At February 14, 2007 10:38 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Knock.Knock. (a delivery from the postman)

I am not sad that you did not favor me.
Fate has a way of what it wants to be.
It was fun and funny to have your acquaint.
Keep on with your posts,you were my saint.

A Valentine


At February 14, 2007 2:33 PM, Blogger Bill Taylor said...

Hey, I'll defend to the death (well, maybe not that far) your right to say whatever you please, Richard. But don't expect me to agree with it all or even to find some of it worth a response.
Rude? You ARE rude sometimes; quite often. I've never had a problem with that.
As for "English journalists" - I'm a Canadian journalist. I'm only as English as you are; by birth.

At February 14, 2007 4:20 PM, Blogger Colin Randall said...

Copied from previous posting.....

Bill Taylor talked about "major newspapers here" and works for what anyone familiar with the Canadian press knows is one of them. He did not, however, refer to any paper by name. So while this doesn't come within a million miles of affecting my argument, I will correct the reference made hastily in - as I said - a flying visit to a screen.
I would be amazed if the reports I saw and quoted from did not include the comments to which the restaurateur took particular exception. It must have been clear that I was not pretending to give a verbatim account of the court hearing but for those who really thinks it matters, I am sorry that I omitted to say that I had not read the review in full.
I didn't want to post a fifth item on this subject, animated and interesting as the debate has been. But en passant, Gigi is right to say France Soir (which was not involved in the recent case in Paris) must have known that printing the cartoons would provoke a reaction, but that in itself was not in my opinion an argument for deciding against publication. And Richard might like "slurry" as the collective noun for journalists.

At February 14, 2007 4:41 PM, Blogger Colin Randall said...


And see my link, just added, to the Greenslade blog at Media Guardian...more comment - and responses - to be found there.

At February 14, 2007 7:21 PM, Blogger Bill Taylor said...

And for journalists who fancy themselves as wordsmiths: Slurry with a fringe on top.
This is NOT meant as a slur(ry) against Colin's lack of an actual fringe.

At February 14, 2007 7:43 PM, Blogger richard of orleans said...

Bill. Well I’m sorry I used the ‘E’ word and I realise it is a big insult for a Canadian. It fitted in well with my ‘slurry of journalists’ (nice one Colin) comment and I could hardly call you and Colin multicultural.

Actually no I am still English and you are not. As I learnt in Australia, you can fade into the scenery very fast and people think of you as native. But when you are in France, in my case anyway, most people notice the accent. I think that is the same for most foreigners living here. So they ask you what nationality you are. If you’ve switched passports, you can say French. They think or say ‘mon oeil’ so you can then say you were English. Since most French would not change their nationality even after living abroad for a 100 years, (that may change if Ségo’s draft proposal to tax French nationals resident abroad goes through) they would probably think you were a bit disloyal. Better to stick with her Majesty the Queens passport and just say France is a better country to live in than the UK. Then immediately I am treated as a polite, reasonable and sensible person. Better treatment than on this blog.
Incidentally my new blog can be found here:www.richardorleans.blogspot.com

At February 14, 2007 7:56 PM, Blogger SH said...

Did CR add the book-burning picture deliberately after reading Richard of Orleans' description of "Mein Kampf" ? Yes, it was Hitler's "honestly held opinion" (and very turgid prose too). Pity the author did not thereafter extend the same courtesy of freedom of expression to the honestly held opinions of other writers such as Thomas and Heinrich Mann, who had to flee Germany and have their works printed in exile.

I have never forgotten the words of Stefan Heym at a lecture in London when asked by a member of the mainly German audience why he had chosen to deposit all his papers in a British university rather than a German one. "Hier wird kein Schriftsteller verbrannt", he growled. (They don't burn books here.)

At February 14, 2007 9:35 PM, Blogger richard of orleans said...

Good question. Do the uncontrolled free speachers think the world was a better place because Hitler was allowed to distribute a book in which he attributed all the ills in Germany to the Jews. (I have admttedly only read translated extracts of the book)

At February 15, 2007 10:50 AM, Blogger Colin Randall said...

SH - I didn't have time when posting No offence (4) - during a fleeting trip to the UK - to look for a suitable illustration, but decided on the way home yesterday to find a book burning image. I thought of a more direct Nazi/censorship link (the Berlin monument was one possibility, and there are pictures of the burning being done in the 1930s) but this one seemed perfect. It also had the advantage of making the point more generally rather than seeming to accuse anyone of having Nazi sentiments.
As for the boundaries of free speech (for those of us who believe in it at all), I think I have made clear my view about any publications that incite actual criminal acts - which could range from from the murder of Jews and burning of mosques to an attack on a controversial restaurant - as opposed to offering a debatable opinion.

At February 15, 2007 2:49 PM, Blogger Bill Taylor said...

The film footage (which can be found on-line) of the book-burning in 1933, with an equally inflammatory speech by Goebbels is still, more than 70 years later, quite chilling. But you're right; quite inappropriate here.
When Louise and I, on a Richard of Orleans blog last week, remarked that we enjoyed what he's doing, back came a comment: "So you and Louise find Richard's blog refreshingly different and very cool. But didn't one of the Mitfords find Adolf Hitler refreshingly different and very cool?"
How silly. Naziism is all too easily bandied about as an insult, which serves only to diminish its true horror.

At February 15, 2007 3:40 PM, Blogger Robert Marchenoir said...

Anne Gilbert, si vous commencez à me prendre par les sentiments, je vais être obligé de passer à la langue française...

At February 15, 2007 3:49 PM, Blogger Roger said...

Someone asked "Do the uncontrolled free speachers think the world was a better place because Hitler was allowed to distribute a book in which he attributed all the ills in Germany to the Jews."

I would suggest there are few example (if any) where the exercise of free speach has made the world a better place. But too many where the withdrawl of this freedom has made it worse.

At February 15, 2007 5:43 PM, Blogger richard of orleans said...

Well what do we mean by ‘free’. I looked it up in the dictionary and got 49 definitions. The following two seem reasonably representative:

5 Exempt from external authority, interference, restriction, etc., as a person or one's will, thought, choice, action, etc.; independent; unrestricted
6 Able to do something at will; at liberty: free to choose

Now Colin says interestingly:

“As for the boundaries of free speech (for those of us who believe in it at all), I think I have made clear my view about any publications that incite actual criminal acts”

I didn’t see in the definition of ‘free’ anything about boundaries. And of course the law decides what is criminal, so if it’s illegal to criticise restaurants then it’s ‘criminal’

Colin being a reasonable man thinks that there should be boundaries. He sees no conflict between ‘free’ and ‘boundaries’. Some things, e.g. racism are clearly out. OK, well what about the age of people who you want to hire? A recent decision in France says that you cannot indicate the age limits in a job advertisement. Have we lost a bit of free speech or have we gained a bit of anti ageism?

As an entrepreneur knowing how hard it is to establish a business I feel for the restaurateur who got a stroppy journalist. I feel that the restaurant should get a warning or two before a highly critical review is published. Otherwise I think it’s unfair. Now Bill feels happy with the system in the Toronto Times and he feels its fine for his fellow journalists to sit on judgement over the restaurants in his area providing they check the food four times. He no doubt feels I am biased towards the entrepreneur. I maybe, but he is biased towards selling newspapers.

So who should decide where the boundary is? The entrepreneurs or the journalist? The journalists obviously feel it should be them. Being a democrat, I believe it should be the legislature whose laws are implemented by the justice system. As far as I can understand that’s what happened in Ireland.

If anyone is in doubt, I am very much in favour of as much liberty as possible in expressing one’s views. I believe it has brought much good to the world by exposing all manner of ill deeds. I don’t believe it is the journalists job to fix the boundaries, and I am suspicious when they get on their high horses to protect ‘free speech’. Unfortunately they are often, really protecting their right to publish sensationalism and the bottom line of their income statement

At February 15, 2007 5:52 PM, Blogger Bill Taylor said...

No, not my fellow journalists. One specific journalist with the necessary experience and expertise. And being critical does not equate with being stroppy.
The first role of a newspaper is indeed to make money. It's a business. As an entrepreneur, Richard will understand that. What he may not understand is that a critical restaurant review doesn't sell extra papers. Nor is a critical review "sensationalist." It's not the newspaper's business to give the restaurateur a "warning or two." It's the newspaper's business to report the facts as the restaurant reviewer sees them.

At February 15, 2007 5:58 PM, Blogger SH said...

Bill Taylor,going only by your own account of what was written on Richard of Orleans blog last week, I think you have missed the point. Anyone who can state on his blog that Germany is "the natural friend" of France, with apparent disregard for the past 150 years of history (well, since German unification) between the two countries and the feelings of those French people who lived through the horrors of the last war, merits a bit more than a raised eyebrow. His description of the Atlantic Wall, built with forced labour, as some wonderful work of Franco-German co-operation is certainly "different" but definitely not "refreshingly" so and certainly not "cool".

We're not talking about freedom of expression here, but distortion of the facts. You have chosen to introduce the word "nazism" here, no one else did.

At February 15, 2007 6:03 PM, Blogger Colin Randall said...

For those who have not seen the amendments to my original posting but are scanning these comments, a few other thoughts can be found at the Media Guardian website, specifically on
Roy Greenslade's blog which I think is accessible without registering to the site. It's a fair way down but key in a search for "Irish" (or, since this started out as another view from the slurry, "disgraceful") and it takes you straight there.

At February 15, 2007 6:38 PM, Blogger Bill Taylor said...

Your aversion to Richard of Orleans appears to be distorting your view of the facts, SH. Colin introduced the word Nazi here; I merely made an observation following on from that. And if you can bring yourself to visit Richard's blog, you won't only have to go by my account of what was written there.
My stated enjoyment of Richard's blog encompasses it as a whole; Over-all, I like what he's doing with it. I don't wish to speak for Louise but I imagine she feels the same way. I certainly don't agree with all his opinions -- if you're keeping up with this blog, you'll know we've been having a dispute here for a while -- but, by and large, I think what's he's doing is refreshing. And "cool."
If anyone has missed the point today, I fear that it's you.

At February 15, 2007 7:11 PM, Blogger SH said...

I have no reason to doubt your account, Bill Taylor, without checking it on Richard of Orleans' blog. My point was that "misplaced admiration" seemed to be what some other commentator was getting at, as regards whichever Mitford it was, and that person did not mention the "n" word. Richard of Orleans can produce a good post, but too often it is simply a rant, and frequently an ungrammatical one, against Britain, the British, the Americans and other Anglo-saxons, among whom you must count as well as himself. I read an article today in which it was stated that one in five Englishmen would prefer to have been born French (survey done just before Christmas). The writer went on to say that he felt not many Scots would "renounce their birthright" like that. Perhaps that's what colours my feelings!

I'm waiting with interest to hear what Richard has to say about today's announcement that de Villepin is actually presenting himself for election, and in Orleans!

At February 15, 2007 7:18 PM, Blogger Bill Taylor said...

The Mitford reference was in relation to Hitler, though, which is an overstatement entirely in line with the use of "nazi."
As I said here recently, like Richard I'm English by birth and there's no escaping that. But I very much regard myself as Canadian.
I'm sure Richard will make his feelings about de Villepin clear either here or on his own blog.

At February 15, 2007 7:32 PM, Blogger richard of orleans said...

1) The French and Germans didn't stop being good engineers when they were under Nazi rule. Just as the English wouldn't become good engineers were that to happen. Should one not admire the engineering feat of the Pyramids and Stone Henge because slave labour was probably used?

2) From the Francs a Germanic people, to the Franco German empire of Charlemagne,on to the Franco German duchy of the Dukes of Burgundy, the exchanges of nationality of Alsace Lorraine and the lack of a natural frontier between our nations there are many reasons to believe we are natural allies. Not least of which the French find Germany the country to which they feel closest.
3) De Villepin is follwing a prestigious path. Both Pompidou and Barre were appointed Prime Minister
having not previously held an elected post. They were to become great elected politicians

At February 15, 2007 8:10 PM, Blogger SH said...

Well Richard, I obviously know the wrong sort of French people; some of them even think the Rhine is a natural barrier too!

So you think that de Villepin hopes to follow in distinguished footsteps. But surely he's standing as a UMP candidate? If Ségo wins, he's on the wrong side of the fence; and if Sarko wins, I can't really see him wanting to appoint de Villepin to any post. They haven't exactly been bosom buddies in the past. It will be interesting.

At February 15, 2007 9:51 PM, Blogger richard of orleans said...

Well the Rhine is easier to cross than the Loire, between North and South Orléans. I had my lunch today in a restaurant on the South bank and my dinner in a restaurant on the North bank.I don't recall too much energetic effort to get from my pichet of Côte du Rhône to my pichet of Beaujolais village.And now I am back home on the south bank.

As far as de Villepin is concerned, this is France it's nothing like the UK. He'll be found a suitable slot, probably not too close to Sarko at the beginning who is looking odds on with Ségo blowing up,but things happen or as Macmillan said events by dear fellow events. Besides everybody recognises he was the best foreign minister ever.


Post a Comment

<< Home