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Saturday, February 4, 2023

“My freedom ends in front of your nose” – Bad times for freedom of speech, next year may be even worse!

By: Jože Biščak

“My freedom ends in front of your nose.” This is how freedom (of speech) was defined by Eamonn Butler, director of the Adam Smith Institute. Contrary to political correctness, which claims that freedom (of speech) ends in a filter somewhere between the brain and the mouth.

Although in recent years there has been more and more restriction, no one probably thought that the year 2022 would be so dark for freedom of speech in Slovenia. Sentence to prison for satire (gloss), numerous complaints and interrogations for what was said or written, persecution and harassment against conservative journalists and editors, the state authority ordering Nova24TV to cut part of the television report, threats by Prime Minister Robert Golob to cancel some media. These are just a few examples of the curtailment of freedom of speech. Next year may be even worse, as changes in criminal legislation and the expansion of the concept of “hate speech” (which is not a legal term) are expected, according to which anyone can be prosecuted and convicted for whatever they say, if someone does not like it. Golob has already announced that they will first clean up (read: abolish) classic media, and then social networks.

Action against freedom of speech

“For me, the year 2022 is a sad story for freedom of speech,” said Vinko Vasle, writer and retired long-time journalist and editor. According to him, the human right that everyone can have an opinion about everything, to express it freely and without fear, to write it down and spread it, is increasingly oppressed. Minister for Digital Transformation Emilija Stojmenova Duh “tells us with the help of ideological pornography and famous personalities that every insult, every vulgarity is hate speech. This action is directed against freedom of speech. And there is no longer a difference between hate speech and critical expressions,” Vasle is convinced.

The Minister of Justice, Dominika Švarc Pipan, said that the area of punishing hate speech (whatever that means) is well regulated, but that such actions are not adequately sanctioned. However, the minister, who is even a lawyer, clearly does not understand what freedom of speech is. According to her, freedom of speech and hate speech are two different concepts, which is legally untenable. Freedom of speech is or is not. There cannot be something in between. Because if it were only a partial right, then it is no longer a fundamental human right and freedom. The essence of freedom of speech is (and the European Court of Human Rights also believes this) that speech is sometimes offensive and shocking.

Media freedom

“As far as Slovenian politics is concerned, I am not exactly an optimist regarding media freedom, although I am anything but a pessimist by nature. Because I see that the ruling coalition, especially the dominant Gibanje Svoboda party, as well as the Levica party and part of the Social Democrats, are literally prone to repression (Golob’s parapolice, tracking without court orders…), which is most evident in the media with the bizarre parliamentary investigation into the current government critical media,” said Bojan Požar, long-time journalist and editor, founder of Požareport and TV host. For him, there is no doubt that “the Golobs want to shrink the field of media freedom, but there is little chance that they can succeed.”

It is true. Media freedom, which means that anyone can establish a media outlet and spread ideas and opinions freely, will remain despite Robert Golob’s desire to abolish some media outlets. Although this is more difficult for conservatives, as complications can arise at the Ministry of Culture, where the media must be entered in the register. However, under the pretext of fighting against hate speech, the persecution of dissenters will increase. This is predicted by the entire ideological left political pole; this is the desire and demand of the dominant part of hegemonic journalists and editors who unite in the Society of Journalists of Slovenia (DNS). Last but not least, the restriction of freedom of speech – and this is shocking – is also demanded by the European Union (EU).

Scary news from Brussels

Procedures to further limit the free expression of opinions and views are already underway in Brussels, and all EU member states will have to implement the adopted ones into their criminal codes. Two years ago, ECRI (European Commission for Combating Racism and Intolerance at the Council of Europe) published several reports, also for Slovenia. Demokracija and Nova24TV were also mentioned there. The report was one-sided, because it referred only to Slovenian organisations and associations that have the opposite worldview, such as the magazine you are reading. What was incredible in the report was that they were disgusted by Article 297 of the Slovenian Criminal Code, saying that it does not allow for enough convictions. The report also expressed regret that after gaining independence, Slovenia renounced Article 133 of the Criminal Code of the SFRY, since with that formulation of “verbal delict” the prosecution of hate speech would be easier.

As time went on, the European Commission with President Ursula von der Leyen started preparations for the adoption of an expanded list of “EU crimes” or “crimes against the EU” at the beginning of December last year. Although the list is still being formed and is not final, it is already clear that so-called hate speech, which will also include opposition to migration and the LGBT agenda and denial of climate change, will be defined as a “particularly serious crime” that undermines EU values. The adoption process is not so simple, and the final decision will be made by the Council of the EU, where the full agreement of the governments of the member states will be required. But the intention itself is scary, as it is proposed to adopt a part of the criminal legislation that would be binding for the members. It is already happening today that in Germany, special police units are raiding dissidents, and in the Netherlands, anti-terrorist agencies are dealing with critics.

A police state

Some believe that we have already said goodbye to freedom of speech. “I cannot talk about freedom of speech in Slovenia, because ‘it no longer exists’,” said Andrej Drapal, a consultant and publicist, and Mitja Iršič, a journalist and publicist, added: “The ultimate goal is, of course, a police state.” The field of what you can and cannot say is shrinking. Deciding what constitutes hate speech, which is a very elusive concept, is left to the interpretation of the authorities. This, of course, means that the possibilities of abuse and sending ideological opponents to prison are practically unlimited. Edvard Kadič, analyst, communications expert, and editor of the Portal website, sees the limitation of freedom of speech not only in suppression and persecution, but also in “the choice of predictable speakers, ‘our journalists’ and the right sources (portals) to refer to” in the mainstream media. “In 2023, I expect an even stronger selection, because the theatre of the absurd cannot exist without constant care for the audience,” Kadič is convinced.

Freedom of speech clearly does not bode well for the coming year. Although it is a constitutionally protected right, it should obviously be further protected against abuses by the legislative, executive, and judicial authorities. Above all, to punish those who prevent it and shrink the field of freedom.

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