Free speech and censorship

The danger of being cheery, how we should deal with unruly commentors, and some of the exciting thin

Let me take a few minutes to put the boot into the Cheery Digest. A confirmed miserablist, I'm clearly not the target audience for this sort of thing.

Nor have I any idea who is behind this blog so why not read this and draw your own conclusions...

NEWS: Why we love the Queen ...

There's no two ways about it, our dear old Queen has a twinkle in her eye - apparently she has revealed (we're not sure who to) that whenever she hears Abba's Dancing Queen come on the radio, she "always tries to dance, because I am the Queen and I like to dance".

That's rather charmed us.

Staying on the regal theme, we were also amused to hear Nelson Mandela's reasoning behind simply calling our monarch 'Elizabeth' when they speak on the phone: "Why not? After all, she calls me Nelson."

Possibly the most nauseating outpouring since Violet Elizabeth Bott had a good scream.

Moving on to the knotty issue of commenting, censorship and what lines should be drawn.

This is an increasingly vexed issue on newstatesman.com. First of all, there are some contributors who use this website - and others - to propound a particular world view. Some of the right, some of the left. Others use it as a place to insult people, belittle their intelligence. Somewhere in between the two there are the humourists who are often funny but occasionally cross the line. Most people are interested in the articles and fire off our content and off each other. They manage to disagree without being personal.

Ultimately the decision on when things should be removed falls to me and up until recently the decision to unpublish comments has been taken only because there's been some pretty extreme unpleasantness such as racism or homophobia or something that is likely to cause great offense. That's partly because I don't believe in censorship.

However, we've had to toughen up the stance in recent weeks. In particular we've focused on those who are just tediously rude and who put off other commentors but also on those with views which most right-thinking people will find offensive. We're also being tougher on some of the nastier personal attacks that occur - thankfully rarely - on some of our writers.

By enlarge, I'm grateful that so many people wish to hold intelligent debates about important issues. One good example of debate, I think, was this thoughtful exchange on homosexuality and Christian notions of marriage.

Coming up on newstatesman.com...

Unison boss Dave Prentis writes on why his members would be right to strike over a 2.45 per cent pay offer. As many as 800,000 workers from dinner ladies to binmen are set to walk out next month having rejected the rise.

Look out for criminologist Mary Lynn Young on the severed feet that keep floating into shore in British Columbia.

Heard the one about the obscenity trial judge caught with smutty images on his website? Alex Kozinski, said he wasn't sure whether he or some other family member had intentionally stored the sexually explicit images. Log on to find out more about how he caused a mistrial.

Jonathan Calder ponders the strange link between a cult children's TV show and New Labour. “The Roman Emperors used to keep a slave to whisper “remember thou art mortal” when they got above themselves. Tony Blair would have done well to have an aide close at hand to say “remember you’re a Womble” now and then.”

All this plus our new column on gaming – CultureTech
– and much, much more.

Ben Davies trained as a journalist after taking most of the 1990s off. Prior to joining the New Statesman he spent five years working as a politics reporter for the BBC News website. He lives in North London.
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Why Barack Obama was right to release Chelsea Manning

A Presidential act of mercy is good for Manning, but also for the US.

In early 2010, a young US military intelligence analyst on an army base near Baghdad slipped a Lady Gaga CD into a computer and sang along to the music. In fact, the soldier's apparently upbeat mood hid two facts. 

First, the soldier later known as Chelsea Manning was completely alienated from army culture, and the callous way she believed it treated civilians in Iraq. And second, she was quietly erasing the music on her CDs and replacing it with files holding explosive military data, which she would release to the world via Wikileaks. 

To some, Manning is a free speech hero. To others, she is a traitor. President Barack Obama’s decision to commute her 35-year sentence before leaving office has been blasted as “outrageous” by leading Republican Paul Ryan. Other Republican critics argue Obama is rewarding an act that endangered the lives of soldiers and intelligence operatives while giving ammunition to Russia. 

They have a point. Liberals banging the drum against Russia’s leak offensive during the US election cannot simultaneously argue leaks are inherently good. 

But even if you think Manning was deeply misguided in her use of Lady Gaga CDs, there are strong reasons why we should celebrate her release. 

1. She was not judged on the public interest

Manning was motivated by what she believed to be human rights abuses in Iraq, but her public interest defence has never been tested. 

The leaks were undoubtedly of public interest. As Manning said in the podcast she recorded with Amnesty International: “When we made mistakes, planning operations, innocent people died.” 

Thanks to Manning’s leak, we also know about the Vatican hiding sex abuse scandals in Ireland, plus the UK promising to protect US interests during the Chilcot Inquiry. 

In countries such as Germany, Canada and Denmark, whistle blowers in sensitive areas can use a public interest defence. In the US, however, such a defence does not exist – meaning it is impossible for Manning to legally argue her actions were in the public good. 

2. She was deemed worse than rapists and murderers

Her sentence was out of proportion to her crime. Compare her 35-year sentence to that received by William Millay, a young police officer, also in 2013. Caught in the act of trying to sell classified documents to someone he believed was a Russian intelligence officer, he was given 16 years

According to Amnesty International: “Manning’s sentence was much longer than other members of the military convicted of charges such as murder, rape and war crimes, as well as any others who were convicted of leaking classified materials to the public.”

3. Her time in jail was particularly miserable 

Manning’s conditions in jail do nothing to dispel the idea she has been treated extraordinarily harshly. When initially placed in solitary confinement, she needed permission to do anything in her cell, even walking around to exercise. 

When she requested treatment for her gender dysphoria, the military prison’s initial response was a blanket refusal – despite the fact many civilian prisons accept the idea that trans inmates are entitled to hormones. Manning has attempted suicide several times. She finally received permission to receive gender transition surgery in 2016 after a hunger strike

4. Julian Assange can stop acting like a martyr

Internationally, Manning’s continued incarceration was likely to do more harm than good. She has said she is sorry “for hurting the US”. Her worldwide following has turned her into an icon of US hypocrisy on free speech.

Then there's the fact Wikileaks said its founder Julian Assange would agree to be extradited to the US if Manning was released. Now that Manning is months away from freedom, his excuses for staying in the Equadorian London Embassy to avoid Swedish rape allegations are somewhat feebler.  

As for the President - under whose watch Manning was prosecuted - he may be leaving his office with his legacy in peril, but with one stroke of his pen, he has changed a life. Manning, now 29, could have expected to leave prison in her late 50s. Instead, she'll be free before her 30th birthday. And perhaps the Equadorian ambassador will finally get his room back. 

 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.