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Protecting public morale – by law?

November 16, 2011

Well I am going to write briefly about this whilst drawing your attention to a few caveats.  Firstly the link holding the cited story comes from a source that is not best known for corroborating its stories.  The reason I am using the source is because firstly it was sent to me by one of you dear readers and thus shows I do read what you send me and secondly the source cites both Ukrainian Pravda and Reporters Without Borders.

So it appears that yet another very poorly drafted piece of legislation is going through the RADA, this time relating to “Protecting Public Morale”  One assumes that the “protecting of public morale” runs fairly similar to the recent Hungarian law which makes it almost impossible to criticise the Hungarian government and also seems to have taken a lead from the recent Italian laws making bloggers as answerable to libel and defamation in line with professional media outlets.  Maybe it doesn’t.  Maybe RWB and Ukrainian Pravda are stretching the limits.  I haven’t seen the draft law.

There seems to be great concern from RWB and Ukrainian Pravda that the new law, if it gets through parliament and is signed rather than subject to veto by the President, will effectively make it impossible for opposition websites and bloggers to operate as they currently do.  That said there are many Ukrainian websites and blogs that would fall foul of laws elsewhere in Europe for one reason or another within nations deemed to be exceptionally liberal.

Indeed the link claims the penalty for using profanities is equal to incitement to commit terrorist acts it is claimed.

Now there are several issues here, none of which would really affect your author as I would not incite anyone to commit terrorist acts under any circumstances and secondly I employ a suitably descriptive profanity with such sparing use, to omit them completely is hardly a difficulty.  Snobbish?  Maybe.

As readers of this blog are also aware, I am as likely to lament and/or question the actions, words or deeds, of the ruling majority as I am the opposition.  In fact when the opposition were in power and the current ruling majority in opposition this blog treated both with equal candor when it came to policy or the lack thereof.

There is a benefit to being a follower of policy rather than particular political party or political personality in that there is no need to defend or overlook the obvious errors and manipulations of spin employed by a political class that across all political lines are feckless in the majority of cases.  There are a few quality politicians but they are in a very small minority.

Considering therefore I am highly unlikely to make personal or party specific attacks but rather ruminate on particular policies or actions whatever their source I have little to worry about, especially as the majority of my writing here is in English and not Ukrainian or Russian so I do not rank so highly on the popular regional search engines.

Anyway, returning to the proposed law at hand, which I have not seen, but we will assume RWB and Ukrainian Pravda have prior to making their comments, it would seem to be yet another rather poor attempt by the feckless wonders Ukraine calls law-makers.

No sane person would want the Internet to become a rallying point for the recruitment and incitement of terrorist activities.  There of course needs to be a legal mechanism for bringing down such websites and forums.  There comes a point where any government, no matter how liberally minded, would step in and take down such websites hosted within its territory or that is specifically recruiting to target its territory, people and assets.  Sadly in Ukraine, power, politics and property long ago morphed into one and the same thing across all parties thus muddying the waters somewhat when it comes to territory, people, power and assets under threat.

I appreciate that one person’s terrorist can on occasion be another’s freedom fighter but as history shows, the causes of terrorism are only every resolved by diplomacy and negotiation when containment or iradication becomes tiresome or too expensive for the authorities.

As far as Ukraine is concerned, it is almost a weekly occurrence that a RADA politician with full immunity representing a party such as Svoboda is on live national television calling for revolution and using that exact word.  Svoboda got just over 5% of the national vote at the regional elections last year and appear on national TV stations broadcasting to the nation openly calling for revolution.  Now that is not terrorism, if anything it is free speech at a rather extreme political  end from a nationalist party, however with extreme politics often come extreme groups who will affiliate themselves to such parties officially or unofficially and will carry out acts akin to terrorism all too often.

At what point would you take down an official political party’s website or stop their political remonstrations on live political debating shows to the nation?  Elected officials have the right to address the nation regardless how abhorrent their political views in an open society most would agree.

This law one has to assume, is being created, in part, to allow for the removal, or temporary downing of websites and forums that would result in acts of terror or incitement to do so.    Unfortunately so immature and lacking in the understanding of casual effects are some Ukrainian politicians and political parties, that they run off at the mouth before engaging brain when addressing huge audiences on Ukrainian TV.  Fortunately, at least with regards to this particular form of politics, the majority of the Ukrainian public have become so apathetic to the political class and its historic and continuing nefarious shenanigans, nobody gets up of their sofa to join the rallying cries of disobedience and potential violence without being paid to do so by the sponsoring political party.

Very much like when the mother-in-law was offered UAH 100 to stand in a crowd behind a particularly irate politician to provide the impression of popular support, like most Ukrainians she would have stayed at home if there had been no payment to go stand in the street for 30 minutes as the cameras rolled.

As many governments have discovered when trying to close websites they disapprove of, suddenly they end up with the game where you stand with a big stick trying to hit moles as they appear randomly from the holes in front of you.  It is simply a never ending and increasingly difficult task.

There also is the question over what exactly is “public morale”?

One is reminded of an equally broad statement and ill-defined law introduced when the then Tymoshenko government banned pornography (for the benefit of public morals) and yet the wording of the law introduced could cover anything from classical painted nudes and sculpture by historically acclaimed masters and their masterpieces to the most debased form of adult entertainment and everything in between.

The ability to construct and craft poorly worded and misconceived laws is certainly not constrained to the current authorities in Ukraine.

The ability to enforce this new proposed law will probably be as effective as that of the pornography law – practically impossible.   (Again we return to effective, ineffective and counterproductive policy making.)

The next issue relating to profanities is rather more difficult to argue.  Is there ever any need to use them in a written form?  In my case, probably not.  However that is not true of all written work on the Internet and I am not sure how it could be applied to e-books that already exist.  It seems quite impossible to administer in respect of such documents before we even allow ourselves to consider the aspects of free speech or the accurate quotation of public figures by the media, who may deliberately or accidentally employ such words when making public statements.  Much must surely come down to context and artistic license.

I am not aware of any part of society that is immune from swearing.  I was once in the presence of Prince Philip and had occasion to hear him use a word that, as defined by Section 5 of the Public Order Act, is indeed a word generally prohibited from use in a public place.   That said, if the UK police arrested everybody who used that word in a public place, the cells would be overflowing every day and the court system would grind to a halt.  It comes down to the discretion of the police and the circumstances whether to enforce this particular aspect of Section 5 POA or not.

The problem, aside from any badly crafted language used in this proposed law, is that laws on public morals (in the previously cited case of the Tymoshenko government and pornography) or the proposed laws on public morale (as proposed by this government) present  moral and morale issues of their own to the legislators themselves.

Somethings are simply better left alone and public morality and public morale are matters for the public rather than government more often than not.  We are after all, for the most part, responsible adults capable of making our own choices and unfortunately, certainly as far as Ukraine is concerned, far more thoughtful and educated than many of the politicians seem to be across the entire political spectrum.

I suppose we will see how this law progresses, however, like most of the laws, the passing at the first reading or even a second reading, does not necessitate it will become law.  Even if it does become law as it stands, the enforcing of it, along with so many Ukrainian laws,  may never actually come to pass.

Ukraine and Ukrainians would undoubtedly be better served by the current authorities going through the existing laws and repealing huge swathes of Soviet legacy no longer relevant or in need dire of amendment to suit the current times rather than a political system that no longer exists.

Let’s see if they manage to get the balance right when it comes to cyber-incitement and free speech or not.  Personally I think they are going beyond the realm of sensible and effective policy when it comes to swearing.

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