Posts Tagged ‘1st Amendment’

Germany Goes Mao on Free Speech: Investors Blanche

January 19, 2018

When asked how he went bankrupt, the venerable  American author of “Huckleberry Finn” Mark Twain said „Slowly at first, then all at once.“ It looks like that quintessential Western freedom to speak and write freely (within the already narrow parameters of incitement, libel and genocide denial laws) is heading down the very same path in Germany. Freedom of speech, that core practice that distinguishes the West from its competitors and adversaries, is curling up its toes between the Oder and the Rhine.

On New Year’s Day 2018, veiled government censorship detonated in the Teutonic Twittersphere as a new and eerily named hate speech law took effect – the Netzdurchsuchungsgesetz. I’ve covered the NetzDG ‘s slow dark creep and how it’s the antithesis of all that characterizes the West – arbitrary, without redress, full Mao.

As it seeks to make a thousand flowers bloom, the law also has the potential of spooking investors and even of damaging investor sentiment in Germany. That’s especially true for smaller urban tech start-ups and for downtown real estate, as I discovered at the latest Tech Summit in Lisbon. More on that later. First, here’s a bit of polit-drama to spice up a baleful tale.

Not Tried, But Immediately Tested

After the NetzDG went into effect on the first day of 2018, it was immediately tested by an arch-adversary of the sitting government. AFD MP Beatrix von Storch fired off a Tweet that entered the Shadowland of What is Acceptable. In emotive language, she lashed out at “barbaric, gang-raping Muslim hordes”. The tweet was quickly scrubbed by Twitter. (In a prima facie example of how misguided the law is, a satire of her tweetwas erased as well.) Von Storch then used the censorship as a case in point – that the NetzDG was not about fighting hate, but was instead a cynical bid to ring-fence debate on the CDU/SPD’s Open Borders policy and its consequences. That policy is now facing mounting public rejection and is weighing heavily on tough exploratory talks for a coalition government.

Hate Speech Charges: Used to Smokescreen Policy Failures?

You can argue whether or not the AFD Co-Chair’s Beatrix von Storch’s Tweet was in good taste. But that’s not at issue. What is, is her fundamental right to express her own thoughts and sentiments where, how and when she pleases. Especially when it comes to public policy and police failures to protect the public. Taking it one step further, the very police department her Tweet criticized (Cologne’s) then put her under investigation for incitement for underscoring unpleasant facts that put them in a bad light!  Again, the question here is not whether von Storch stereo-typed a group, hurt feelings or even engaged in incitement. The question is about censoring political speech at the exact moment migration becomes the nation’s most emotional and divisive issue. The Twitter erasure and felony charges arise just as new crime stats point to a direct link between increased unvetted migration and soaring violence and crime in Germany and Europe.

Setting the Cologne police case aside, a public courtroom, not a corporate office for private media police , is the proper venue to judge if Von Storch broke the law. That’s been the democratic norm in the US since 1789 and the Federal Republic since 1949. The CDU/SPD Grand Coaltion has clearly dropped the torch.

A Law Unto Itself 

The NetzDG has been ripped apart by a cross-section of civil society. Even the UN, assorted NGO’s and the EU have expressed concern. And since the NetzDG has the whiff of political sulfur, it’s hardly surprising the AFD, seeing an opportunity, has gone in for the kill. The FDP and the Greens as well have made undoing the law part of their agenda. (The Greens, though, want more, not less, government intervention. According to the DTS News Service, leading Green Renate Kunast wants a national network of courts to convict offenders.) All of this has stoked the debate that Germany is sleepwalking backward into the bad old days of the Stasi in the Communist East. As a young journalist, I spent a number of tours in the grayscapes of the DDR. I never saw a thousand blossoms. But I did meet some of the earnest “Heroes of the Revolution” who were busy monitoring, censoring and arresting fellow citizens for aberrant thoughts and utterances, like the gentleman below.

The NetzDG is not Investor-Friendly 

The NetzDG is tarnishing Germany’ reputation as a progressive society. What it reveals is a jittery nanny state micromanaging Tweets with a legion of amateurs unsuited for their role, whose task is administering directives and whose judgment is final. That might work if your business partner is a sweatshop providing the only jobs in a malarial swampland. It does not work if you’re looking for the best and the brightest. What makes Silicon Valley shine for tech investors is the atmosphere of inventiveness deeply rooted in free thinking. Arabesques of creativity were not exactly the order of the day in the DDR. They will become less likely in a Germany where social media is tightly monitored for missteps.

And it sets Germany on a slippery slope. How long is the descent from censored tweets to China’s social media ratings that determine your employment or housing possibilities? Far-fetched? Some in the German elite are openly lobbying for pivoting to China as Berlin’s preferred partner rather than Trumps’ America. It’s not only perceptions of what Germany’s is becoming that’s worrying investors. At the Tech Summit in Lisbon, young founders also grilled me on security in business hubs like Frankfurt and Berlin in light of the arrival of thousands of unvetted migrants.

They’re Only Numbers 

Unfortunately, I couldn’t provide them with concrete numbers, and could only point to the anecdotal record. That, as mentioned, has changed as I write this, and the latest numbers confirm aggregated police blotter reports showing a connection and a causality between a spike in migrant numbers and a spike in certain types of crime. This topic has been largely ignored by Germany’s mainstream news networks. (Some of the questions raised at the Tech Summit were based on personal accounts of recent travelers to Germany.) I left Lisbon with the impression there are growing reservations among digital nomads about German cities, especially about my home, Berlin. For Generation Z, I discovered, it no longer enjoys a reputation as a  laid-back locale for hipsters looking to start up the next Spotify or Netflix. Now it’s Lisbon that’s topping the charts for groove and the buzz.   Not just because of its young tech scene, its modest prices and its stunning natural beauty and nostalgic architechtural beauty. It’s also one of Europe’s safest cities – especially for young women. (But watch out for the pickpockets on scenic Tram 28!)

            Taking a break at TechSummit17 with the Tall Ships

Can Germany Get Its Freedom Mojo Back?

Step One to a new German Mojo is dumping NetzDG on the scrap heap of history. Germany’s leading publications are already leaning that way. Editors are recalling Europe’s rich heritage: what has distinguished us, beginning with the Greek city-state until this very day, is the freedom to speak our minds publically and in assemblies, the Agora, without fear. The NetzDG imbues the Digital Agora with an atmosphere of denunciation and suspicion. The choice for Germans is clear: they can choose freedom, with all its nuances and responsibilities, or they can choose fear, the great paralyzer and destroyer. Let’s hope 2018 will see Germans reconnecting with the Freedom Mojo that was their glory in 1848 and in 1989. The world would be a better place for it.

Copyright 2018 by Brian Thomas All rights reserved. All photos thanks to Wiki Commons.

Feel free to use or quote any of this editorial. If you do so, please provide the appropriate attribution for your readers. Thanks!

Does Germany Need a 1st Amendment ? Censorship’s Nose is under the Tent

November 26, 2016

It looks like Germany – and the EU – needs a First Amendment.

And by the pace of developments – it can’t come quickly enough.

Following the Trumpquake and the Brexnami, the political establishment wants to contain other political upheavals. They want to hold on to power. Upstart parties and movements have been articulating the unhappiness of large segments of the electorate. The anger began with the bank bailouts two legislative cycles ago in 2008. It’s been simmering since then.

Many politicians and their adherents in the media are going down the wrong path.

They’re supporting the most desperate and fear driven response possible: the censorship of ideas they deem threatening and the technologies that deliver them. By doing so they will discredit themselves and undermine our democracies.

And they will fail for all their ardor.

Fake News – Schamke News – Who cares?

With a weather eye towards upcoming elections, and with a chill in her back from the US vote, Chancellor Angela Merkel announced to the Bundestag this week it’s time to debate government regulations for the New Media. Many of us hoped she would be the „torch bearer“ for the „European values“. It looks like her torch is dimming.

More than two centuries ago – America had a massive debate on free speech. It built on another much older debate in Europe that included Martin Luther.  It’s fruit was the US Constitution. The oldest and best guarantor of freedom of its kind on the planet.

A quick reminder: The fundamental values are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Liberty is enshrined in the 1st Amendment. It’s the first for a reason. Here it is:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

„No laws“ means no laws.

I’m Not Feeling the Freedom

Without a completely free press, there can be no other freedoms. That in a nutshell, powered the American, the French, and the German Revolution(s). It is still powering them today from Hong Kong to Turkey.

The threat to free speech in Europe today does not come from an Erdogan type of edict following mass arrests of opponents. It’s coming in the form of administrative directives from Brussels and government lawsuits at the local and state levels.

It has already started.

Brussels Overreacts – A Sign of Weakness, not Strength

Two disturbing events have taken place in Brussels in the last weeks. One of them is the October recommendation by the European Council to the British press which especially upbraids popular mass market tabloids in the UK for „excessively“ associating terror attacks with Muslims. You can agree or not agree with that. What’s alarming is the power and animus of the administrative organs churning out recommendations on „hate speech“. No one, of course, likes hate. We all want love. But associating „hate“ with speech is a mistake. You can outlaw hate as much as you can outlaw love. It is Orwellian. And look at the practical side. Who decides what constitutes „hate speech“? And the penalties for its use? Whoever is doing it right now in Brussels remains anonymous for most of us. Can you name the individuals responsible for determining what you can say without possible state sanctions?

I can’t. And I work in the „word and ideas“ sector.

These positions are too important not to be elected on a local level. And that’s the problem. Without a 1st Amendment, politicians will create a distant and huge administrative unit to „protect“ speech, which quickly becomes subject to a definition in terms of acceptability. It’s an old game and must be ended lest we destroy what made „The West“ an envied success.

It’s time for Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights to be replaced by the First Amendment.

Failed Templates

The Council of Europe is putting itself in the company of other abysmal failed Councils.

For starters: the Sharia Council will see you stoned to death for blasphemy in a number of Islamic jurisdictions. All for a good cause, of course, heaven. It’s a lot loftier than the „public safety“ the EU is pushing for.

In China, criticizing the political elite or exposing their business, plans will activate the „People’s Council“. “Equality” is the good cause in Beijing. I like heaven better. „Speech violations“ there will make you eligible for slave labor in a smartphone factory where  „suicide nets“ are part of the fashion landscape.

Just ask Raif Badawi in Saudi Arabia or Ai Weiwei in China about free speech and Councils. I’ll wager they’d prefer a vigorously defended 1st Amendment.

Why do we rally to their defense and not jealously guard our own freedoms? We need to do both. Or we’re hypocrites.

The second disappointing and hypocritical case from Brussels is from the EU parliament. It has voted for a non-binding resolution to clamp down on Russian English news outlets like RT.

Here’s their assessment and the EU’s remedy:

Propaganda pressure on the EU from Russia and Islamist terrorist groups is growing, MEPs warn in a resolution voted on Wednesday. It seeks to distort the truth, incite fear, provoke doubt and divide the EU. To counteract anti-EU campaigns, MEPs suggest reinforcing the EU’s tiny “strategic communication” task force and investing more in awareness raising, education, online and local media, investigative journalism and information literacy.

(More on that here : http://bit.ly/2fqP0KY)

The main goal here is shut down RT – the popular Russian news site, pure and simple. I’m not here to break a lance for RT. I am here to protect my and your right to listen to what they have to say. Or what anybody has to say about anything.

Here’s a „values“ quote we need to pass around again. Forgetting it is of too great a consequence:

„I may not agree with what you have to say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.“ A little Voltaire with your coffee.

By the way, no human, no „body“ gives me that right. I was born with it. That’s what’s meant by „inalienable“. It’s the fruit of the Enlightenment and puts all your holy „Councils“ in the shadows.

Today we take Ankara – tomorrow Berlin

The Chancellor’ s call for a debate on regulating speech is wrong on its face and its timing is catastrophic.  With the war against free speech intensifying from Turkey and the Islamic world to China and beyond – it’s time to for Europe and its political leadership, NGO’s and civil society to stand up for free speech. Germany and Europe need a First Amendment.  Compare it to what the European Council has to offer. It’s too long to quote (surprised?) so I’ve posted below.

The Path to freedom

The camel has stuck its nose under the tent. It’s time to deal with the beast. We need a swift and rigorous debate about introducing a 1st Amendment in Europe at the EU and national levels.

Without one, we risk sinking back into the darkness Europe has known all too often. Oppression thrives in the fine print and in lofty goals. The 1st Amendment is overdue in Europe. I challenge anyone to convince me otherwise.

 

In my next post, I explore how Mark Zuckerberg’s trip to China is bad for freedom, 1st Amendment rights and the small and medium size businesses that depend on free speech to thrive.

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Article 10 : http://bit.ly/1foTq0D