Fox (n): carnivore of genus vulpes; crafty person; scavenger; (vb) to confuse; -ed (adj): to be drunk.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Don't read what they don't want you to know.

IMAGINE that you lived in a country where you could not speak freely.

Where, if you were gossipping with a friend in the pub and were overheard by someone, you could be legally bound from never repeating your conversation again under threat of losing your home, your job, and your liberty.

Imagine you lived in the kind of country where if you ran a small bookshop which happened to sell a biography critical of someone in the public eye, that person could knock you out of business using his financial might as easily as an extremist could lob a bomb through the window.

Consider what it must be like to know that the man adopting your grandchildren is a child abuser, but to have no right to be heard in the secret court which rubber stamps his application.

Imagine a nation where children are encouraged to act like miniature adults rather than children, where they can be forced into marriage under the guise of 'cultural reasons', where social workers have no right of access to their homes, where children are smuggled in and out with ease to be mistreated.

The kind of place where prostitution is almost the only growth industry, where women in the public eye are objectified and only those who make themselves sexually available are considered attractive or worth listening to.

This country is the sort of nation where they pretend they do not torture their prisoners, because they outsource it to someone else. It is a place where they demonise the poor and needy, where anyone in need of help is considered a leech, and where if you say any of these things is wrong you are simply laughed at.

Welcome to Britain in the 21st century.

Britain is the country where, if you had sex with someone famous and chatted to your mate about it afterwards, he could sue you out of existence on the basis you were telling the truth. If you tell a newspaper about it because there was some kind of public interest in an element of your union, he could in theory financially obliterate not only that newspaper and its holding company, but the editor, the reporter, the page designers, the printers, the distributors, the newsagents and you and your mate as well. Perhaps instead of sex you are chatting about the business interests of a billionaire - he could do the same, and considering the examples of Robert Maxwell and James Goldsmith, do so with considerably more viciousness.

Britain is a country which has secret courts all the time - for family issues, child criminals, injunctions, medical tribunals and for people who are considered mentally incapacitated. Some may be reasonable but we don't presume everything should be open, and judge which courts should be private on a case-by-case basis. We err on the side of secrecy.

Britain is a place where rich criminals in boardrooms get favourable treatment from the Crown Prosecution Service, police and court system. Poor ones, by comparison, are dismissed as a criminal underclass for whom there is no hope, even if they have committed the same crimes as their wealthier counterparts. A middle-class man who beats his wife very often gets a different sentence to an unemployed one. Prison reformer Elizabeth Fry proved in 1817 that rehabilitation was always more productive than punishment. Yet 195 years later our prisons are still bursting, and crime is on the rise.

Britain is a country where a public-service broadcaster in the shape of Channel 4 has reported children in the travelling community do not attend school until the age of 16 and often marry beneath the age of consent 'for cultural reasons', as though this justified child abuse and a lack of basic human rights.

And Britain is a country whose security services sit and watch while people accused of terror offences are terrorised themselves. As a journalist who has often been threatened with arrest under anti-terror legislation by idiot police officers, I tend to wonder if they might not be actual terrorists. And as a human being I tend to think that the whole point about the war on terror is that We are supposed to be better than Them, which means not terrorising others even if they are Them.

Last week it was only the unelected, anachronistic and out-of-touch House of Lords which drew attention to a welfare reform bill which will promote horrid discrimination against the sick and the dying, because our democratically-elected MPs had already nodded it through.

And Britain is a country where just about the only check on all these horrible things is a Press which, thanks to the misbehaviour of a handful of idiots, is currently subject of a massive inquiry and so terrified of putting a foot out of place that these things are not being shouted about from the rooftops. In the current climate, every kind of story is thin on the ground - not just shagging stories but also corporate whistleblowers, political boat-rockers, and journalistic investigations which take time, money, and subterfuge as well as editorial daring.

What can we do about it? Not much, to be honest. The Press will be cowed - and rightly so, on some counts - for a good while yet, the Government's not about to change and our legal system, despite being rooted in medieval mores, seems immune to what the public wants.

But it would be good if at least a few of us knew these problems existed, because knowledge is the only thing which leads to progress. Which is a long-winded way of suggesting you read a new book by my comrade-in-arms Nick Cohen, who argues that rather than being free we are in fact censored and oppressed on an almost unprecedented scale.

You might agree or not, but unless you know the facts you can't make up your own mind. And more than anything else, this is the book bad people don't want you to read.

I have two copies, on principle.
(And also because I forgot I'd pre-ordered one.)

Click here to buy on Amazon.