I couldn’t believe what I was hearing

Sometimes I don’t hear what is being said. Ask my nearest and dearest. It’s not my ears, but my concentration. I can’t multi-task in the same way as three-jobs-at-a time Mrs F.

So it was on Monday evening while quietly contemplating a Sunday paper colour supplement while sipping a glass of supermarket-special-offer Shiraz.

I could have sworn the BBC commentator said, in a matter-of-fact kind of way, that The Coalition was planning to tackle street violence by blocking the use of social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter. I contented myself that I must have misheard and resumed my bid to get maximum value out of the previous day’s paper. A little later I heard it again. This time clearly: “David Cameron is proposing to stop people using social networking to prevent a repeat of last week’s riots.”

Is this the same government which condemned Egypt for blocking protesters’ messages during the Arab Spring uprising which resulted in the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak? The same sound-bite-driven administration which heralded the use of social media in toppling the regime in Tunisia? The same image-obsessed leadership which has criticised the Chinese authorities for blocking millions of its citizens from using Google and other internet media?

I have no doubt apologists for this wrong-headed, spur-of-the-moment, headline chasing policy will rush to point out that unlike China, Egypt and Tunisia, the UK has a democratically-elected government and that these powers are for our own good.

That we have free elections is undeniably true, but is not the principle of free speech worth protecting – even in the face of civil disturbances?

Once we accept that our government can prevent us communicating whenever it sees fit we are on a slippery slope indeed.

Today those plotting riots are the enemy within; tomorrow it might be you organising a legitimate protest.

Censorship is censorship even when those blocking the message claim to be the good guys.

Counterpoint By Scott Freeman