Saturday, 2 May 2009

Mind your Language

"You will never amount to anything in the galaxy while you retain your propensity for vulgar facetiousness."
(Doctor Who, The Deadly Assassin)

I see that Deputy Philip Rondel deplores the standards of speech, both in the States and online, in blogs, on the States of Jersey. I think he is right, and Senator Syvret does really go too far with his language, although I think the rot set in, both here and in Guernsey when Chief Ministers used intemperate language, and never really apologised for it. I am thinking of former Senator Walker's use of the term "shafted", and then in Guernsey, the Chief Minister, Deputy Trott, actually caught threatening someone with language which is so offensive I would not use it. If the leadership - and as a Minister, Senator Perchard was also part of that - uses bad language, what example does that give to the rest of the States, and indeed to the world at large?

I have in fact noted this to several States members

I think that there should be a debate on bad language. It is one thing to criticise ideas (the Waterfront), or even huge salaries (such as the Web MD) on a blog, but quite another to use this kind of language. I may also poke gentle fun at people in the public sphere in News from Nowhere (though I have no political bias, and will go at anyone in that!), but I think there should be limits...It is one thing to reveal an alleged cover-up, another to engage in plain insults, as he does here with "liar and a crook". That is wholly different from making a claim that the AG may have been partisan in some judgements, which is a matter of opinion.

It will no doubt be difficult to delineate the boundaries of good language and also allow proper freedom of speech, but I am sure that it is a debate which needs to be made. If arguments and opinions cannot be presented in a robust manner without resorting to the kind of language which we have heard both in and out of the States, it is a poor day for democracy, because such language functions as a form of "noise" and often conceals or obscures the arguments that should be made. What would be pernicious are badly worded standards such as "bring this House into disrepute" which could be used to silence genuine debate, and the observation of blatant deception and lying. For example....

If - as has happened - an election manifesto (such as that of Anne Dupre) makes a commitment very strongly - and then the member blatantly reneges on that barely three or four months later - then it is not unfair to call that deceitful. Known facts can be stated  - the words used then, the words and actions taken now - and the broken promise or pledge proven beyond a shadow of a doubt. If a States member (such as James Perchard) swears at another in the House, then says they did not, and then admits that they did after all - that is called lying.

But to say someone is a crook is to make a very definite statement about the legality of their actions, and one which must have enough facts to justify it in a Court of Law. I have not seen sufficient evidence myself to see this of Sir Philip Bailhache, and in fact I think it is extremely improbable. It is one thing to make a Liberation Day speech which is offensive to many people - including those like my mother who were here - and to be insensitive enough not to see the need to apologise for that. It is another thing to say he is a crook, and put him in the same class as Ronnie Biggs, the train robber.

I'm am sure that this will provoke some disagreements; it is an argument I've made before, but perhaps needs restating a bit more.

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