A right not to be offended
You do not have the right not to be offended. — Flemming Rose
We had a dinner table conversation about the freedom of press and the special Swedish construction of responsible editors yesterday at my house. A responsible editor basically takes the fall (juridically speaking) in the case that the newspaper (as a whole) has published something that was false, slandered someone or otherwise upset the harmony of the world at large. An individual journalist (or cartoonist) is not held accountable in Sweden. On the whole, it’s not entirely insane, but is under review for two reasons: a) it’s not a very common way of allocating responsibility inside a news corporation in Europe, and b) the way our law protecting press is currently written, it’s not technology neutral. But anyway.
We touched upon the subject of insulting police officers. In Germany and Belgium this is apparently very illegal and fineable, in Sweden it’s not. Swedish blogger Viktualiebrodern comments that when European police operations become harmonised this is bound to lead to conflicts. ”Ihr habt ja nichts im Koppe” (Your heads are empty) = €500 fine (DE); ”Era jävla as, jag hatar er, era jävla fascistjävlar” (Fucking cadavers, I hate you, fucking fascist bastards) = cased dismissed (SE). A Swedish court reasons that in the heat of the moment, people say stupid things and while people should not say stupid things it is not news worthy or punishable that people nevertheless do, and unfortunately even quite often.
Swedish politician Fredrick Federley was exposed to harsh, spontaneous words and felt subsequently offended in 2008 when disconcerted voters protested his positions on surveillance and copyright. Similarly, Enrique Cereza at the Spanish association for maintaining audiovisual producers’ rights, feels that Spanish minister of culture Ángelez González-Sinde has been persecuted for what is essentially a decent copyright law protecting hardworking people (see series of previous posts on Ley Sinde which, for the reference, is all but decent).
In a Swedish state investigative report from 2006 (SOU 2006:46 Jakten på makten) the investigators reach the conclusion that elected officials often feel subjected to threats and insensitive comments from (usually) dissatisfied voters and that there often are no ways for politicians to protect themselves against this.
To my knowledge you still can’t be punished for having insulted or even threatened a politician in Sweden. What the situation is in other member states I do not know.
Personally, the best insult that I have ever received, and still receive on a regular basis in a calm, sometimes cold and calculative, presentation on behaf of the offending party, is ”You will make a good politician”, even if that probably has more to do with me knowing exactly what people mean to insinuate by saying just that.
If the top quote is slightly cryptic, a Flemming Rose editorial in Washington Post may cast further light on offensive language, imagery or the feeling of violation.