Friday, 23 May 2008

'Straight' added to the List of Banned Words

I see that the Crown Prosecution Service has decided that prosecuting the teenager who called Scientology a cult would not be in the public interest. I suppose that we should be thankful that the CPS have, on this occasion, demonstrated a modicum of good sense. However, the fact remains that the police attempted to stifle free speech, purely on the grounds that that speech was, or might be, "offensive".

On Tuesday, I noted that cases such as the above - innocuous conduct being treated as criminal by an overbearing police force - seemed to be happening on a weekly basis. Well, I may have underestimated the frequency with which it occurs, for here is yet another instance of this phenomenon:

A complaint has been made to police over a banner declaring a former gay bar in Sunderland city centre has now gone "straight".

The sign outside the Retox bar, in High Street West, read: "Retox under new management! Now Straight! Top totty dancers on match days!"

A police inquiry is under way into a complaint that the sign, which has now been taken down, was offensive.

The bar owners said it was never their intention to offend.

Assistant manager Carl Lovett said: "We admit it was not the best banner but there was never any intention to cause offence."

I assume, from the way in which this is reported, that the "offensive" part of the sign was the word 'straight', although I suppose that it might just possibly have been the "top totty dancers" bit that did it. Either way, while the sign might have been slightly crude, I fail to see what, precisely, was so upsetting to the complainant. Is mentioning the very existence of heterosexuality now deemed "homophobic"? This bar had changed its commercial direction, to one which it presumably hopes will prove more profitable: is it to be prohibited from announcing that fact to the world?

In any event, as I have repeated time after time, the fact that something is offensive to someone is not in itself sufficient reason for banning it. After all, the right to free speech would have precious little meaning if it was restricted in scope to speech which no one would ever want to silence. But, as we see time and again, that is the road down which this country is heading, at a pretty rapid rate. And, as the behaviour of the complainant in this case demonstrates, there is no shortage of people who not only support the suppression of free speech, but are also willing to assist in it, by becoming informers against those who transgress against the state's notion of acceptable language.

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