The Economist this week highlighted the situation regarding freedom of speech and expression in the modern world...
....Islamist intimidation is the most extreme example of a broader, and worrying, trend. From the mosques of Cairo to the classrooms at Yale, all sorts of people and groups are claiming a right not to be offended. This is quite different from believing that people should, in general, be polite. A right not to be offended implies a power to police other people’s speech..
Freedom House, an American think-tank, compiles an annual index of freedom of expression. This “declined to its lowest point in 12 years in 2015, as political, criminal and terrorist forces sought to co-opt or silence the media in their broader struggle for power”. The share of the world’s populace living in countries with a free press fell from 38% in 2005 to 31% in 2015; the share who had to make do with only “partly free” media rose from 28% to 36%. Other watchdogs are similarly glum. Reporters Without Borders’ global index of press freedom has declined by 14% since 2013.
..Europe is full of archaic laws that criminalise certain kinds of political speech. It is a crime to insult the “honour” of the state in nine EU countries; to insult state symbols such as flags in 16; and to say offensive things about government bodies in 13. Libel can be criminal in 23 EU states. Bulgaria, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Portugal all punish it more harshly when it is directed at public officials. Some of these laws are seldom invoked, and France got rid of its law against insulting the head of state in 2013, five years after a protester was arrested for waving a banner that said “Piss off, you jerk” to President Nicolas Sarkozy. (The banner was merely quoting Mr Sarkozy, who had said the same thing to a different protester.)..