Sunday, 20 October 2013

Not so free speech - and what about the hidden 'extras'?

Last week I was at a meeting where the proposition for a Speakers’ Corner in Douglas came up (see ). Seems one of the attendees had been approached about joining the censorship (sorry.. ’coordinating) committee, and some of the others had previous experience of Douglas’s particular take on ‘public/private partnerships’ for screwing up the lives of ordinary citizens, so the discussion was….well, full and frank!
By the way, to get an idea of the real proposal, and who is behind it, it might be best to ignore the puff piece from Douglas Degeneracy Parsnips which our ‘local’ press ran in whole and see the earlier , where the real movers and shakers announced it to their allies.
The project interests me, though hardly for any of the pseudo-reasons this pseudo-public body would like. Obviously, as an outspoken advocate for free speech, the possibility of at least one island venue where that is finally possible would be nice. Equally obviously, as none of the partners have any interest in freedom of expression or movement (except how to stop it) I cannot imagine them creating one.
Here’s an interesting experiment for anyone who wonders why…
Go to any one of our crapital city’s shopping centres – all built at great public expense and inconvenience, including the compulsory purchase or forcible closure by other means of the small retail premises which used to be there - and take a book with you. Sit down on one of the benches and read it. Also keep an eye on the second hand of your wristwatch to time what happens next.
As most of the retail units are empty, and there are rarely any shoppers, it will surprise you, and enlighten you considerably as to the real nature of a society in which public bodies (nominally controlled by taxpayers and voters) pass all real power to corporate bodies who answer to nobody (least of all their clients/customers or shareholders).
Which leaves me wondering what the real game is, because the other thing to consider is that optimum control of punters passing through a retail area in order to ensure maximum spending in minimal time and with minimal expenditure is crucial to it. So why would a blatantly commercial enterprise disrupt that with an activity which clogs up the pavement, generates no direct income, and distracts potential punters who might be throwing away their earnings on expensive tat instead?
Perhaps the answer is that we are about to be distracted into giving away any real rights of free speech and assembly.
In the ‘old’ Strand Street it was possible to stop and shoot the breeze with folk you met, even hand out leaflets for good causes or ask the public to sign petitions. Nobody worried, and the police rarely moved you on, just as long as you didn’t physically inhibit passers-by doing serious shopping. Similarly, the Sally Ann and other musicians, for example, played Xmas carols, and again, as long as they didn’t huddle in shop doorways and block the way in or out neither shopkeepers nor the public complained.
About ten years ago that started changing, to the extent that now only pointless and ineffective charities or campaign groups can mount ‘actions’ and buskers have to audition in front of some clueless Douglas Council committee, leaving only the worst free to perform. There is no legal precedent for this, it just happened because civil servants and local politicians were too dumb or lazy to question it when the business sector ‘suggested’ that it might be more ‘efficient’.
So, once DDP & Co have assigned us grateful peasants one corner to spout (pre-approved and carefully monitored) nonsense, the thing to watch is whether they then use bodies like police liaison committees to ensure anyone expressing an opinion – perfectly legally – anywhere else in a public area gets moved on.
Who says that crime doesn’t pay? In Douglas, you might be forgiven for thinking it gets a public sector salary and pension.

No comments: