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back to article ECHR rejects free speech plea over offensive online comments

In the US it is different, but in the European Union, free speech is no defence for a publication when readers make defamatory comments on its website. Setting this in stone, the European Court of Human Rights yesterday rejected a plea from a leading Estonian news website contesting on human rights grounds a fine for offensive …

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"Only once, I think, has a commentard got the banhammer for threatening to kill someone."

Normally it's just a ticking off for threatening to kill someone.

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Anonymous Coward

I believe somebody called Eadon got nuked when he pissed of somebody called Drewc ... oh ... never mind. Sorry I said anything

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Anonymous Coward

If you think he only pissed off Drewc, you didn't read many of his comments...

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OK, I'll keep it down to three expletives per post. Is that nice enough for you?

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Anonymous Coward

European acronym soup

...well, the ECtHR (European Court on Human Rights) is in Europe, but it isn't part of "The EU" institutions.

EU institutions are EC (commission), EP (parliament), and the Conseil Européen (European Council) and the 28 Member States.

...whereas ECtHR is is a supra-national court established by the European Convention on Human Rights, under the framework of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) international treaty. Drafted in the fifties by the Council of Europe.

The Council of Europe is an international organisation promoting co-operation between all countries of Europe in the areas of legal standards, human rights, democratic development, the rule of law and cultural co-operation. It was founded in 1949, has 47 member states with some 800 million citizens. Unlike the EU, the Council of Europe cannot make binding laws.

The CoE, ECHR, ECtHR and EU used to share certain symbols such as the flag and the anthem, but the EU changed its flag last year sometime! (The EU trilogue: EC, EP & Conseil, now do set the broad community laws such as the Directive 2000/31/EC that was ruled against in this case by the ECtHR)

That's the Wikipedia summary for you... oh and BTW Sir Winston Churchill spoke of a Council of Europe as early as 1943 in a radio broadcast and pushed for the creation of the Court etc. why some current politicos with rather less weight than Sir Winston want to do away with the ECtHR is beyond my knowing...

am I now allowed to say "Mis kuradi jama!" or not?

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Re: European acronym soup

"Spitting Image" did a good explanation of the whackiness of the European arrangement back in the 80s ..

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Re: European acronym soup

The problem would be the European Convention and the Human Rights Act 1998 which represents it in the UK.

The UK just needs to update the HRA to make freedom of speech *almost" absolute as per the US bill of rights and to remove all and any special protection for religions.

Once we can talk the truth, or any rubbish we might make up, without fear. Once religions must conform to the same legal and human rights standards as any corporation. Britain will be a hugely better place.

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Re: European acronym soup

-- Once religions must conform to the same legal and human rights standards as any corporation. Britain will be a hugely better place.--

THAT low? Is it even possible?

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Re: European acronym soup

"The UK just needs to update the HRA to make freedom of speech *almost" absolute as per the US bill of rights and to remove all and any special protection for religions."

Why would anybody in their right minds want almost unlimited freedom of speech? The US *idea* is that in giving people almost total freedom is that people aren't dumb and will use it wisely? What happens in reality is that people lie, people are racist and vocalise it (I got no issue with people thinking this stuff - just keep it to yourself) and incite hatred and - it's happened - murder.

Doesn't help with US libel law being so weak - then they have the cheek to try to get us to soften up our own libel laws.

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The US

"In the US it is different, but in the European Union, free speech is no defence for a publication when readers make defamatory comments on its website."

But it still covers threats to kill or harm....

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Anonymous Coward

Re: The US

"But it still covers threats to kill or harm...."

Only if the government is not shutdown, then you can say what you want shirley?

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Re: The US

The police and the courts (and, sadly, the lawyers) are still working, so no.

And stop calling him Shirley.

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free speech vs. threats to kill or harm in the US

Lost all faith..., the line in the US between free speech and threats to kill or harm was summarized here. In my view*, the requirement for “provable likeliness” is the key differentiator in the US between (constitutional) speech and (unconstitutional) assault/conspiracy/&c.

* — I am not a lawyer.

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It can be explained concisely...

The Estonian court applied a penalty for breach of Estonian laws. This was appealed to the ECHR that it was breach of human rights. The Court ruled that the Estonian laws did not breach the European Convention on Human Rights so the fine stood.

The ECHR ruled exactly correctly and any other ruling would have been an unwarranted intrusion in Estonian affairs (and the Daily Mail would have been all over that!)

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Re: It can be explained concisely...

Yes, it's only the UK courts that the ECHR likes to overrule. I suppose in this case they made an exception as it allowed them to find in favour of restricting freedom of speech, something the EU isn't keen on.

Mine's the ballot paper with UKIP ticked...

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How many expletives

am I allowed to use while pointing out to journalists who still haven't gotten around to the fact that the European Court of Human Rights != EU ?

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Re: How many expletives

This case, I believe, was built around EU law and therefore referring to the EU seems legitimate. But when, for fuck sake, will other journos (El Reg does rather well in this regard) learn that EU != Europe? All too often they refer to Europe when they actually mean EU. It's annoying. There are still some lucky bastards in Western Europe who haven't joined the EU...

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Childcatcher

Lawfare

You know where this is going.

Soon, comments about certain countries of the Middle East will be squelched and you won't even be able to call a certain president Magic Negro because it is offensive to LEFT, RIGHT, UP, DOWN or SOMEONE.

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Re: Lawfare

Hey! I object to your offensive portrayal of Dilma Vana Rousseff!

Still, keep watering that slope. It's not quite slippery enough yet.

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Happy

Re: Lawfare

@Destroy All Monsters: "Soon, comments about certain countries of the Middle East will be squelched and you won't even be able to call a certain president Magic Negro because" ..

Has David Ehrenstein ever written on the self-hating-gay-kike-negro phenomenon ..

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A good idea

"But wouldn't it be so much easier, if you could all be, well, nice"

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But wouldn't it be so much duller if you could all be, well, nice

FTFY! (one of those is an f bomb but if I don't say which I guess I'm ok!)

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Be nice

Arrogant, annoying, self centred, idiotic, stupid, all these words when applied to someone are likely to get you into trouble now.

Oh well, lets see if I can still quote Arkell v. Pressdram?

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Re: Be nice

But it's easy, and often more precise, to target the specific opinion or post as being arrogant, annoying, self-centered, stupid etc... It seems right to me, "You are demented" is not allowed, "That post makes you sound demented" is fine! (well, I didn't get censored last time I posted it.....)

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Pint

Re: Be nice

If you add the word "allegedly" it's usually sufficient (so far) to squash any attempted legals, and many streetwise readers will recognise the heavy irony in the use of the word...

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Joke

Re: Be nice

I'll allegedly kill you for saying that!

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Re: Be nice

> It seems right to me, "You are demented" is not allowed, "That post makes you sound demented" is fine!

Oh come on! That makes you sound not demented.

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Re: [alledged to] Be nice

THERE'S a word to be banned! Or so it is said.

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I would never threaten to kill somebody. It gives them time to prepare defenses. That and really why bother? It's the internet all you do by threatening other people is prove what a moron you are.

It's as daft as the people who post stuff like. "Com say dat 2 my fase, il kick ur ass imma blackbelt in MMA an a ex-marine ur ded bro!" etc etc.

What I find more amusing is that the company tried to appeal a fine for 300 euros. It probably cost them more than the fine just to contact a lawyer.

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I agree. Either you do want to attack someone or you do not. If you do then threats are a waste of time and reduce your effectiveness, if you don't then threats make it less likely you'll be able to avoid it.

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Anonymous Coward

Dailymail astroturf does

"I would never threaten to kill somebody. It gives them time to prepare defenses"

The astroturfers backing MI5 Parkers attack on the free press *DO* make open death threats. I read comments suggesting MI5 kill the Guardian editor with Polonium, that he should be shot for treason and all kinds of threats.

I don't expect GCHQ to investigate them as terrorist threats, in my mind I assumed those comments were there specifically to puff Parker up. To force Cameron to back his attack on the free press as part of the fake groundswell.

Cameron later came out with a sort of meek half defence of Parker, instead of sacking him on the spot. IMHO any good leader shouldn't let a low ranking civil servant drive government policy, especially driving it to censor a free press. Elected leaders drive policy, not unelected employees.

Note moderators the phrase "I think X because of Y" is true under UK libel laws even if X turns out to be false. The statement isn't that X is true, it's that I *think* in my head, X is true based on Y.

Under UK libel law, anything I can't prove is true, can be libel, even if its true.

But I think X because of Y is true as long as I think it (you are free to not think it of course, I am offering opinion not facts).

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Dailymail astroturf does

There's a difference between wanting to kill someone and wanting someone else to do it.

The torch 'n pitchfork tribe are too cowardly to do anything directly personal. They prefer the anonymity of a gang. They'll advocate killing right up until they're called on it and then they back right down with 'I was misinterpreted'

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Re: Dailymail astroturf does

I'd hardly call the Director General of MI5 a 'low ranking civil servant'. And you can be quite sure that Parker would have cleared his speech with No 10 in advance. That's how Government works.

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Re: Dailymail astroturf does

" I read comments suggesting MI5 kill the Guardian editor with Polonium, that he should be shot for treason and all kinds of threats."

I have to pull you up on that one matey. There is a distinct difference between saying someone should be shot and saying someone will be shot. The second one is a threat; the first one isn't, it's just an opinion. Any comment along the lines of "You should be..." is not a statement of action and therefore cannot be interpreted as a threat.

The day you start classifying "should" as "will" is the day you give up any pretence of freedom of expression.

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Re: Dailymail astroturf does

Yes! The IMO defense.

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"It probably cost them more than the fine just to contact a lawyer."

They probably were more interested in having the decision overturned than the 300 euros. Hiring the lawyer for the period of the case may well have been cheaper than hiring a full-time moderator for as long as their forums are open.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Dailymail astroturf does

"The day you start classifying "should" as "will" is the day you give up any pretence of freedom of expression."

I say - I should think that the British have been doing that for some time, what what?

*runs and hides*

*read too much Narnia as a kid*

*had to ask his mom why a bunch of kids would line up when they got angry with one another*

*you know... they got in a row*

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given the nature of the internet, the company should have expected offensive posts

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Presumably we're OK as long as we stay within what is generally acceptable in other fields?

For instance if we can be as offensive, abusive, defamatory and insulting as a government minister talking about the disabled and unemployed then that gives us a pretty wide field. It would be very difficult to be any worse than that!

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Anonymous Coward

I was expecting to find every comment in this thread "Removed by a moderator"... it would have just been the perfect thread to accompany this article.

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Many angry readers posted "highly offensive or threatening" comments

And this recent court decision is likely to generate even more.

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A few points

ECHR isn't the EU. It's the court of human rights, that can only rule if its a violation of human rights. So it's not a violation of his human right to prosecute him for libel.

"EU Directive 2000/31/EC on Electronic Commerce".

Comes under the European Court of Justice. Confusing I know. But this ruling doesn't change anything. It simply says this directive doesn't rise to the level of defining a human right.

Commentards are what's left of the the free press these days. elReg is kinda meek without us, but we're worth supporting. Watch for the 'IMHO' in my posts moderator. I'm flagging it as a personal opinion of mine (followed by the reasoning) and not a definitive truth of elReg.

I wouldn't worry about the current attacks on the free press.

MI5 chief is likely IMHO worried about what they'll leak about himself. That Belgacom hack for example, that's a 6 year stretch for whoever was involved. There may be many such crimes hiding in the Snowden files.

IMHO Theresa May lied or withheld details from the Cabinet, because we learned that the Cabinet weren't told about Tempora on Monday's leak. Even though they were discussion Snoopers Charter, the law by which it would be made legal! So maybe she discussed it pretending it wasn't already happening, or maybe she avoiding telling them, but she has something bad to hide there.

Various Generals attacking free speech. Ah military men in costume with their shiny medals. "Look at me, I have a shiny medal, so shut up and only report what I say or I'll shoot you with my gun" they all say.

[Next time you see a General on the news attacking the free press, notice he will be in costume]

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Meh

Wondering whose on the auto bad boys list.

Just saying.

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Actually, there are rules in the US as well

Event he US has limits on "free speech."

-No libel

-No slander

-No violent threats

-No provocations of violence

All quite reasonable, actually.

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Re: Actually, there are rules in the US as well

Actually, no.

You're allowed to say anything - unless mute or muted, how could that be prevented?

It's just that saying some things carries legal consequences. I don't mean to seem overly pedantic, but I think it an important distinction - even if we all carry the appropriate caveat in our minds I think it more important to state the situation clearly (or as clearly as I'm able, at the moment.)

I understand the the human rights court said the case didn't violate human rights; I understand saying some things carry liabilities - shouting "Fire!" in a crowded theatre being the classic example in 1st Amendment classes.

The problem I see is the lash of the politically correct driven by liability exposure as delineated by lawyers, to the extent that all too many universities in the U.S. now have "free-speech" zones for which one has to make an appointment and often have that 'free speech' vetted beforehand. To me that's as much chilling effect and hypocrisy as the recent surveillance revelations are; both are inimical to any notion of free expression.

A point of having a free mind is having the right to express oneself. What the powers want to negate through restrictions of expression is directed at their desire - their intent - for captive minds in the general populace.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Actually, there are rules in the US as well

« -No libel

-No slander

-No violent threats

-No provocations of violence »

I think you forgot to add "No leaking of State secrets / embarrassing material"

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Childcatcher

I for one welcome or censorious overlords!

Especially considering that I don't run any forums or chat rooms in the EU.

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Anonymous Coward

The European Court of Human Rights are ..

The European Court of Human Rights are a bunch of mindless jerks who'll be the first against the wall when the revolution comes.

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Re: The European Court of Human Rights are ..

"who'll be the first against the wall when the revolution comes" - how little imagination you have. The mindless jerks of the ECHR are so far down my list of who to pin to the wall I'd run out of pins long beforehand. Now, that smug (censored) (censored) (censored) that runs the bank and sets fiscal policy, he's the one the wall was built for. Theresa May, for so many reasons I'm surprised she has the courage to show her face, and Edwina Curry as basic revenge on behalf of a hundred million disgruntled eggs.

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