Ridicule Is Nothing To Be Scared Of


From top: The Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill will outlaw content that causes offence; David Langwallner

The late great Ronald Dworkin taught me Jurisprudence and towards the end of his illustrious career, and in response to the Danish Cartoon incident, wrote a nuanced defence of the right to offend, saying:

“Ridicule is a distinct kind of expression: its substance cannot be repackaged in a less offensive rhetorical form without expressing something very different from what was intended. That is why cartoons and other forms of ridicule have for centuries, even when illegal, been among the most important weapons of both noble and wicked political movements.

“So, in a democracy no one, however powerful or important, can have a right not to be insulted or offended.”

Christoper Hitchens and others, such as the English judge Stephan Sedley, have remarked that the freedom to speak inoffensively is a freedom not worth having.

The Irish Government, through the Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill 2022, is purporting, in contradiction to the sentiments and arguments of Dworkin and others, to criminalise causing offence as well as harm.

It is Section 46JA of the bill which is the exact provision which criminalises causing harm or offence as judged reasonably. But by whom? A politically-appointed commission, of course. Vox populism. The mob. Mr. Varadkar and his oft expressed fear of unregulated journalism. Those who tell the truth about him and those he cannot influence not to do so. Well, now to be regulated by him and his cohorts. What a vista? Also offence to whom. The right-thinking members of the community? Us not them.

In fact, the act is contrary to the jurisprudence of the European Court Of Human Rights (ECHR) by which we are bound.

Now not everything is permitted, Holocaust denial or racist speech for example, but the parameters are wide or were. And, in a number of cases, such as Jersild  Vs Denmark and Lingens Vs Austria, the court has indicated speech encompasses the right to outrage and shock and such are the hallmarks of tolerance and broadmindedness.

Under the interpretative obligation implementing the ECHR in Ireland, the state is obliged as far as possible to follow that jurisprudence, but, crucially, as interpreted by domestic Irish courts, this is subject to existing constitutional protection which on speech are much more limited.

So, clearly the mandarin gambit is to criminalise domestically, seek to scupper or wait in the never never as the ECHR finds a breach many years later, at which stage it will be too late, and then water it down in terms of existing constitutional entitlements. We protect enough. The act is constitutional. Our good old boys can be relied on to say so.

It is deeply sinister and redolent of other historic Fine Gael legislation on controlling broadcasts from deemed subversive organisations. But who are the subversives? It is not just Sinn Féin historically that has blood on its hands.

The bill if enacted is a further escalation to a controlled form of corporate Stalinism. The suppression of dissidence. The dying of the light.

David Langwallner is a barrister, specialising in public law, immigration, housing and criminal defence including miscarriages of justice. He is emeritus director of the Irish Innocence project and was Irish lawyer of the year at the 2015 Irish law awards. Follow David on Twitter @DLangwallner

Previously: Simon McGarr: Unflattering Portraits

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28 thoughts on “Ridicule Is Nothing To Be Scared Of

    1. K. Cavan

      Get out, Sara, get out!
      Get out more often.
      If you need to use an “aka” (in brackets even) you’ve failed, miserably.
      3/10. Very Laboured.

      1. Nilbert

        I always cringe when I see someone awarding points for someone else’s posts. It’s so pompous.


  1. Boe_Jiden

    these ideas of free speech are dangerously outdated, it’s not the same world anymore, people have to answer for what they post online

    1. Gavin

      There are plenty of well-defined libel and slander laws that have been used many times to address issues on social media platforms, “causing harm or offense” is pretty open-ended and vague and could be used to mean anything. The idea that free speech is outdated seems a lot more dangerous to me

    2. Mr. T

      “people have to answer for what they post online”
      That sounds like a thinly veiled threat and your tone is causing me emotional harm.
      I will be reporting this post to the police.

      1. K. Cavan

        Darn tootin’ Mr T, me too, we can form a minority & demand that Boe is banned for somethingphobia.
        Even if he really should be dragged outside & shot with balls of his own sh/te.

    3. K. Cavan

      This is either Boe being dryly sarcastic to spectacular effect or the single most idiotic post ever to appear in this forum, ever. Ever. Evah.
      Congratulations, Boe, you are either a genius or a knuckledragging moron, summa cum laude, in either case.
      Oh God, I think this guy actually means it.
      No, really. It certainly is a different world, now, n’est pas?
      Drop me off at the next stop, please, driver.

    4. Harry

      Jesus that’s me fecked
      Soon all we will see is government cleared propaganda
      George Orwell’s world of 1984

  2. Chris

    ‘Tending to undermine the authority of the state’. Classic Fascism, the state being the only arbiter of authority and action.

    Of course, people should be up in arms about this but decades of menticide have made most dribbling idiots. (see comments above).

    It’s no coincidence that grown adults imagine MCU as entertainment, 30-40 year olds thinking trash as the height of culture. Is it any wonder that they so cluelessy yap about things they barely understand?


    1. K. Cavan

      I need confirmation, Chris, do you reckon Boe’s post is in earnest?
      My gast is flabbered & it takes mucho flabbering to do that to my gast.
      Shirley Knott?

      1. Chris

        Unfortunately I do. It would be nice to imagine a lot of posts here were just trolling, and not evidence of societal menticide – but the past few years has shown how far along with the process we are.

        I’d say 1 in 10 has an inkling as to power and its machinations. Not great odds but with the decline of academia, about as good as to be expected.

    2. Cian

      This is old news. The original Broadcasting Authority Act (1960) had a catch-all clause:

      31.—(1) The Minister may direct the Authority in writing to refrain from broadcasting any particular matter or matter of any particular class, and the Authority shall comply with the direction.

      This was made less restrictive, and introduced the phrase “undermine the authority of the State” with the Broadcasting Authority (Amendment) Act, 1976

      16.—The Principal Act is hereby amended by the substitution of the following subsections for subsection (1) of section 31 :
      “(1) Where the Minister is of the opinion that the broadcasting of a particular matter or any matter of a particular class would be likely to promote, or incite to, crime or would tend to undermine the authority of the State, he may by order direct the Authority to refrain from broadcasting the matter or any matter of the particular class, and the Authority shall comply with the order.

      (1A) An order under subsection (1) of this section shall remain in force for such period not exceeding twelve months as is specified in the order and the period for which the order is to remain in force may be extended or further extended by an order made by the Minister or by a resolution passed by both Houses of the Oireachtas providing for its extension; provided that the period for which an order under the said subsection (1) is extended or further extended by an order or resolution under this subsection shall not exceed a period of twelve months.

      (1B) Every order made by the Minister under this section shall be laid before each House of the Oireachtas as soon as may be after it is made and, if a resolution annulling the order is passed by either such House within the next twenty-one days on which that House has sat after the order is laid before it, the order shall be annulled accordingly but without prejudice to its validity prior to the annullment.”


  3. K. Cavan

    Isn’t it touching that the Charter on Fundamental Rights of the European Union is referenced in the bill?
    They’ll have to fish it out of the bin they tossed it in during El Pandemico Fakisimo*

    *Just in case one is not allowed to spread medical information anymore.

  4. Duncan Wheeler

    “Fate tightened it’s knots and death was on the prowl”. Can’t remember who, possibly Hoeg.
    It is the tightening of our freedom of self expression and the total aversion to any and all criticism
    of the sloppy powerful. Julian Assange looms large, or should do, when seeing our futures with regards to this.
    The EU is an anti-democratic tyranny prepare to be homogonized, just like the crap milk they drink

  5. david langwaLLNER

    or saying anything they disagree with is offensive

    that is offensive to their interests

    it is mind blowing how this is being accepted

  6. Micko

    “If you don’t show Mohammad, then you’ve made a distinction what is okay to poke fun at, and what isn’t…

    Either it’s ALL okay, or none of it is.” – Kyle Broflovski

Comments are closed.

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