January 27, 2011

Notes on the Right to Speak Offensively

Recently, two football pundits came under attack for a variety of sexist comments towards some particular women in football. Of this, enough has been said. However, someone on twitter (who I shall paraphrase for anonymity) said, rather angrily:

"Dad reckons that the guys off sky sports were unfairly vilified; that it was free speech and 'why we fought the war'"
There are a couple of responses to this. It's easiest to start with the parts that are right: that people have fought for the right to free speech. I think it's entirely fair to say that no one had to fight for the right to denigrate women, but all in all, thanks to long efforts in progressing society people can say whatever they like.

But here's the important part: if people don't like what you say, they can very much tell you so. The point of free speech is that it works both ways. If you're a public figure and heard to give some rather archaic and offensive views then it is very likely you are going to get a very public battering. It's not the madness of political correctness; it's not that 'you can't say anything anymore'; it's that your comments are open to scrutiny.

So, yes, it was free speech. And yes, we've fought for such freedoms. But freedom of speech is not the right to say anything without rebuttal.

But we don't even have to go that far, in this case. These two fellows are employees of a national broadcaster - in fact, they're not just employees they are spokespeople. They are voices of Sky Sports, and as such have a responsibility to their employer to behave ethically, responsibly and without bigotry. Heck, I'm just an analyst (professionally) and bear no outward face for my company and my contract still states I can't use language of a racism, sexist or otherwise offensive nature. And I can only piss off the few people who sit around me.

I think what we've seen from this is that while you can say nasty stuff about whomever you like (no one was arrested), most people will object to it and smack you down. Good.

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