Wales Moves Forward With Plan To Punish Politicians For Telling Lies

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by Tyler Durden
Monday, Jun 24, 2024 - 09:00 AM

Authored by Jonathan Turley,

Will Rogers once said that “if you ever injected truth into politics, you’d have no politics.” In Wales, it appears that the government is challenging that assessment. However, if the new legislation criminalizing political lies is successful, the Welsh are likely to find themselves with the same abundance of lies but little free speech.

A proposal in the Welsh parliament (or the Senedd) would make it the first country in the world to impose criminal sanctions for lying politicians. Adam Price, the former leader of the liberal Plaid Cymru Party is pushing for the criminalization, citing a “credibility gap” in UK politics.

Astonishingly, this uniquely bad idea has received support from a key committee. Once on track for adoption, this is the type of law that can become self-propelling through the legislature. Few politicians want to go on record voting against a law banning political lies. The free speech implications are easily lost in the coverage.

The new law would make it a criminal offense for a member of the Senedd, or a candidate for election to the Senedd, to wilfully, or with intent to mislead, make or publish a statement that is known to be false or deceptive. There is a six-month period for challenges to be brought.

The law allows a defense that a statement could be “reasonably inferred” to be a statement of opinion, or if it were retracted with an apology within 14 days. If guilty, the politician would be disqualified from being a Senedd member.

The defense is hardly helpful.

It creates an uncertainty as to which statements would be deemed an opinion and which would be treated as a statement of fact. It invites selective and biased prosecutions. After all, what does it mean to accuse a politician of trying to “mislead” the public?

Winston Churchill said “a politician needs the ability to foretell what is going to happen tomorrow, next week, next month, and next year. And to have the ability afterwards to explain why it didn’t happen.”

It is a standard heavily laden with subjectivity and potential selectivity in prosecution. It is more likely to determine not whether lies can be told but which lies can be told. The government and the majority of the public are likely to hold certain “misleading” claims of politicians to be true or opinion while holding a harsher view of the claims of the opposition.

Consider the massive censorship system in our own country.

During Covid, you were labeled a liar, conspiracist, or racist for holding views now viewed as credible.

For example, academics joined this chorus in marginalizing anyone raising the lab theory. 

One study cited the theory as an example of “anti-Chinese racism” and “toxic white masculinity.”

As late as May 2021, the New York Times’ Science and Health reporter Apoorva Mandavilli was calling any mention of the lab theory as “racist.”

Mandavilli and others made clear that reporters covering the theory were Covid’s little Bull Connors. She tweeted wistfully “someday we will stop talking about the lab leak theory and maybe even admit its racist roots. But alas, that day is not yet here.”

Now federal agencies have stated that they believe that the origin of the virus was indeed the Chinese lab.

If this law were in place, politicians could have been charged with lying and barred from the legislature — would have only served to diminish dissenting views further in the government.

Politicians have long been accused of lying to the public.

In this country, presidents routinely lie on matters great and small. Many of those lies cost citizens dearly, from “keeping your doctor” under ObamaCare to losing your life in Vietnam. Criminalizing lies in campaigns because of the spread of disinformation or disorder is a slippery slope that vests unprecedented power in the Justice Department.

There is obviously an abundance of statements from politicians that could be deemed as intentionally misleading. Officials can then simply pick and choose which politicians they want to tar with the allegation and potentially bar from office.

The proposed law is a continuation of the assault on free speech in the United Kingdom.

A man was convicted for sending a tweet while drunk referring to dead soldiers. Another was arrested for an anti-police t-shirt. Another was arrested for calling the Irish boyfriend of his ex-girlfriend a “leprechaun.” Yet another was arrested for singing “Kung Fu Fighting.” A teenager was arrested for protesting outside of a Scientology center with a sign calling the religion a “cult.”

We also discussed the arrest of a woman who was praying to herself near an abortion clinic. English courts have seen criminalized “toxic ideologies” as part of this crackdown on free speech.

Scotland recently passed a new crime law covering “stirring up hatred” relating to age, disability, religion, sexual orientation, transgender identity or being intersex. That crime covers insulting comments and anything “that a reasonable person would consider to be threatening or abusive.”

Free speech is in a free fall after years of criminalization of speech. Generations have been shaped in the educational system to fear free speech. The alliance of government, media, and academic forces have created generations of speech phobics.

The anti-free speech movement in the United Kingdom should be a cautionary tale for every American. The tide of this movement has reached our shores and the same alliance is working to reduce the protections for free speech.

As I discuss in my new book, The Indispensable Right: Free Speech in an Age of Rage, this international movement has left free speech in tatters in the West. Now there are law professors calling for the First Amendment to be rewritten to remove its “excessively individualistic” protections.

The free speech community in the United Kingdom has fought bravely to preserve this right against all odds. Wales is a reminder that this remains a global struggle that requires free speech advocates to unite against this rising tide.