Official: Britain is the new China

Not for the first time, Americans are more informed about the British terrorist threat than the Brits. The latest victim of the UK’s patronising and elitist Contempt of Court law is the suppression of an article about the recent terror arrests that appeared in Monday’s edition of the New York Times: Details Emerge in British Terror Case

However, British readers are blocked and receive instead the message:

“On advice of legal counsel, this article is unavailable to readers of nytimes.com in Britain. This arises from the requirement in British law that prohibits publication of prejudicial information about the defendants prior to trial.”

I’ve written about Britain’s archaic Contempt of Court law before. Empirical studies have shown that jurors are perfectly capable of putting aside what they read in the newspapers and judging a case on the facts presented in court. In the UK, no such studies have been conducted; in fact it is a Contempt of Court even to ask a juror any questions about their court experience!

So in the complete absence of any facts, we have a policy that stifles a vital element of open justice. In addition, public authorities routinely use Contempt of Court as a means of avoiding accountability. As long as they can say a prosecution is possible (no need to give an actual date or even arrest anyone), then all public discussion is gagged. Witness the total information blackout on the fatal shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes in 2005 or the still secret reports into the London bombings of July 7 and 21 that year.

While the blame for such censorship rests squarely on the UK Government, it is also disturbing to see how easily the New York Times caved in to this egregious censorship.

“I think we have to take every case on its own facts,” said George Freeman, vice president and assistant general counsel of The New York Times Company. “But we’re dealing with a country that, while it doesn’t have a First Amendment, it does have a free press, and it’s our position that we ought to respect that country’s laws.”

This sounds remarkably similar to the reasons given by Google and Cisco Systems for acquiescing to China’s demand for Internet censorship. I would have thought a newspaper of the calibre of the New York Times would defend the rights of the British people to know what their government is doing. Instead, by blocking British readers’ access to the story it has upheld an unjust system of censorship and secrecy.

Questions after NYT blocks UK access

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