In the United Kingdom, there is a new example of that country’s sometimes surprising limitations on free speech.
The UK Attorney General is warning people that they might be held in criminal contempt for using social media to discuss the 1989 Hillsborough soccer tragedy. That disaster resulted in 96 deaths when people were crushed in an overcrowded stadium to watch a match between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest.
The notice reads:
Editors, publishers and social media users should note that the inquest proceedings are currently active for the purpose of the Contempt of Court Act 1981.
The Attorney General wishes to draw attention to the risk of publishing material, including online, which could create a substantial risk that the course of justice in the inquests may be seriously impeded or prejudiced, particularly as this inquest involves a jury.
This risk could arise by commentary which may prejudge issues that witnesses may give evidence about, or matters that the jury will need to consider in reaching their verdict. The inquests could also be prejudiced by publishing details of material (whatever its source) which may not form part of the evidence at the inquest.
The Attorney General’s Office will be monitoring the coverage of these proceedings.
This spring marks the 25th anniversary of the disaster, so naturally people want to talk about it. But just at this moment, the British government squelched discussion with heavy-handed criminal laws. That seems extremely regrettable to me.
An ESPN documentary on the tragedy is currently banned from being distributed in the UK. The director told Sports Illustrated:
Because the new inquest has started just two weeks ago, it can’t be shown in the UK until the jury delivers its verdict. Which is a year from now. I really want it to be shown now. You want it to have the impact now, but you can’t. It’s as simple as that.
Of course, the conversation a year from now will be a different one than could be had now. So it’s not just delaying speech, it is destroying speech.
And here’s another example of the UK banning speech related to soccer:
- Blog Law Blog, May 23, 2011: UK Soccer Star Ryan Giggs Sues Twitter and Tweeters Over Super-Injunction