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14 January 2015

Nick Clegg Highlights Irony of Politicians Defending Free Speech

Nick Clegg has spoken of the irony of "some politicians" speaking out in defence of free speech and freedom of the press whilst simultaneously advocating "a huge encroachment on the freedom of all British citizens."

Speaking at the Journalists Charity on Tuesday, the deputy prime minster said freedom of speech and a free press were “at the very heart of our liberal, democratic society” and described the attack on Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris last week as a “barbaric attack.”

He called for “much greater vigilance to protect free speech” highlighting examples of government initiatives which have threatened to restrict it such as the misuse of RIPA to obtain journalists’ phone records and the draft Communications Data Bill.

Mr Clegg said: “Freedom of speech and a free press are at the very heart of our liberal, democratic society. We must not take the work of journalists and the freedoms that allow you to do your work without fear or favour for granted.

“Whether you are a reporter holding the powerful to account, a foreign correspondent risking life and limb to show the world uncomfortable truths, a commentator contributing to our national debate, or a cartoonist pricking the pomposity of politicians and public figures, or even religious figures – thank you. You make us freer.”

Mr Clegg went on to call for “much greater vigilance to protect free speech” listing examples of recent government initiatives which he said “undermine the very freedoms we cherish” such as misuse of RIPA and the draft Communications Data Bill.

Speaking about the “so-called Snoopers’ Charter,” he said: “The irony appears to be lost on some politicians who say in one breath that they will defend freedom of expression and then in the next advocate a huge encroachment on the freedom of all British citizens.

“People who blithely say they are happy for their communications to be open to scrutiny because they have 'nothing to hide' have failed to grasp something fundamental about open democratic societies.

“We do not make ourselves safer by making ourselves less free. Free speech means bad ideas can be exposed and good ones promoted. But how is the marketplace of ideas supposed to work if law-abiding people can't communicate freely about our ideas with others, free from surveillance?

“How can we test our assumptions about the world and discover new ideas if our web browsing is being monitored? Free speech and privacy therefore go hand in hand.”

“The question of how we can make ourselves safer is vital and we must never become complacent. But the question I want to pose is: How do we also keep ourselves free? If we really believe freedom of speech is a founding principle of our democracy, then we must act to protect it.

“On Sunday, millions of people took to the streets in solidarity, in remembrance and in defence and celebration of the freedoms we hold dear. Our response must be to protect and enhance those freedoms, not to allow fear to chip away at them.

“We must always defend the British values of freedom, openness and tolerance. We must always defend the rights of individuals to express themselves freely. And we must always defend the right of a free press to do its work without fear or favour. It is at times like these, when our freedoms are under threat,  that we must stand up for them most of all.”

Note: Nick Clegg was one of the leading political figures to bring in the state-sponsored Royal Charter for press regulation in 2013 and the legislation aimed at punishing newspapers and magazines which refuse to sign up to the system.