Letter carriers rebel

Date:June 2, 2004 / year-entry #218
Orig Link:https://blogs.msdn.microsoft.com/oldnewthing/20040602-00/?p=39063
Comments:    19
Summary:Letter carriers in both Sweden and Scotland have taken to refusing to deliver political advertisements from parties they personally find offensive. This isn't quite the stunning synchronicity as it may appear at first glance: Europe is gearing up for a continent-wide election.

Letter carriers in both Sweden and Scotland have taken to refusing to deliver political advertisements from parties they personally find offensive.

This isn't quite the stunning synchronicity as it may appear at first glance: Europe is gearing up for a continent-wide election.

Comments (19)
  1. Tim Smith says:

    Um, wow.

    If it is legal, they should deliver it unless it might put them in physical harm. For example, delivering KKK flyers to an all African American neighborhood. For those who don’t know, the KKK is basically a southern USA racists hate group.

    There is too much risk of this being politically abused. In a perfect world, I would agree with the letter carriers. But letter carriers, like most everyone else are not above politics.

  2. Well, in the UK at least we have a big issue, even some TV channels are refusing to show Party Political bradcasts – the British National Party (which is essentially a racist party – an offshoot of the National Front) had a broadcast heavily censored, and a socialist party here in Scotland had their boradcast banned for calling Blair a liar. Technically all parties above a certain membership (I think) have a right to have their stuff broadcast but the broadcast rules and broadcasters rights sitll apply…

  3. Ben Hutchings says:

    The UKIP apparently has some overlap with the BNP, which might explain why some postmen don’t want to deliver for them. (Declaration of interest: I’m campaigning for the Liberal Democrats.)

  4. matthew says:

    The UKIP have got nothing to do with the BNP. UKIP is a single-issue ‘withdraw from the EU’ party. The only possible connection is that some of their supporters were also BNP supporters. But that is like saying that because a single (or even hundreds) John Kerry supporter is a rapist then all Kerry supporters are rapists or bad: Kerry himself has nothing to do with rape.

  5. Terry Denham says:

    I would think this would be highly illegal and should result in people loosing their jobs if not going to jail. This in essense affecting another party’s right to free speach.

  6. ATZ Man says:

    What is this, Slashdot? :)

    From the Scotsman link, I quote:

    The Royal Mail is required by law to distribute the election leaflets, so any that remain unposted will have to be delivered by managers or other postal workers.

    — end quote

    The mail will get through.

  7. Raymond Chen says:

    Hate speech is illegal in Sweden and is restricted in England. In the Scotland case, the postal workers’ contract explicitly permits their behavior. In Sweden, the Postal service is not allowed to distribute offensive material (at least if I’m reading the Ekot article correctly which I very well may not have).

    The view that "all speech is protected, no matter how offensive" is – I think – peculiarly American. (Of course, you still can get into other sorts of trouble for saying things that offend others.)

  8. MilesArcer says:

    If I was a Swedish letter carrier I would decide that the AOL CDs are offensive and decline to deliver them.

  9. Ross says:

    Slightly OT but something that struck me by surprise when I moved from New Zealand to the USA a few years back is the monopoly that the US Postal Service has on mailboxes. I remember the look of surprise and fear when I told a friend to leave something in my mailbox if I wasn’t home when she called. I had no idea that I was telling her to commit a federal crime.

    In New Zealand we have no such restriction and its actually a good thing and, contrary to what you might first think, it results in less snail mail ‘spam’. Many junk mailers and the likes of phone and power companies etc employ their own delivery people (eg a kid on a bike for junk mail) because its cheaper than NZ Post. A ‘No Junk Mail’ sign on a mailbox is generally complied with because they don’t want to waste money creating a negative impression.

    Getting back vaguely towards the topic, I remember during an election campaign, there were quite angry letters in my local newspaper about some politicians putting their advertisments in mailboxes with ‘No Junk Mail’ signs. I’m sure they lost votes over it.



  10. Ben Hutchings says:

    matthew: No, they aren’t a single-issue party. See http://www.independenceuk.org.uk/index.php?menu=manifesto&page=manifestotop . They are also against immigration, business regulations and "patronising ‘political-correctness’". (In case you’re not familiar with the rhetoric of the various parties and factions on and off the right wing of the Conservatives, this means such things as equal pay laws and general disapproval of racist speech.)

  11. matthew says:

    although I don’t support the UK Independence party, I can’t see anything there that is offensive or objectionable, except in some ironic left-wing ‘so liberal I end up censoring people that aren’t also left-wing’ way, that states that a party that actively disclaims intolerance (in the link provided), and whose biggest claimed bigotry appears to be opposition to political correctness, which generally means that they don’t mind talking about ‘blackboards’, ‘brainstorming’ or similar terms. Again I don’t think you can claim this translates to an approval of calling people racist names.

    The immigration policy http://www.independenceuk.org.uk/index.php?menu=fivefreedoms&page=fivefreedoms3 here is a far cry from the BNP’s ‘if the Africans want to go home we’ll encourage them’, and contains policies which you might oppose, but surely couldn’t want to censor.

  12. 仪表 says:

    I can’t see anything there that is offensive or objectionable

  13. lasselu says:

    Well, as a customer of the Swedish Postal services I’d be really p*ssed of if my mailman decided not to deliver my mail because he/she personally felt it was offensive…

    In the Swedish free (as in no cost) newspaper Metro (www.metro.se), Malin Siwe, a freelance-journalist, writes an editorial about the problem along the lines: "What happens if a mailman who happens to be a feminist refuses to deliver a copy of, for instance, Playboy?"

  14. FQA says:

    Raymond: "The view that "all speech is protected, no matter how offensive" is – I think – peculiarly American. (Of course, you still can get into other sorts of trouble for saying things that offend others.)"

    Interesting: That is not quite the way the American public’s position on free speech is perceived here in Germany. In particular, I always thought that the use of "explicit language" (especially in songs and TV shows) is generally more strictly regulated in the US than in most European countries.

    Not that I am surprised that the German perception of America’s way of life is, um… "not entirely accurate". Anybody willing to comment on the conflict between people’s interest not to hear swear language and the right of free speech in the US?

  15. Ben Hutchings says:

    matthew: So we’re agreed that they aren’t a single issue party after all.

    While it "disclaims intolerance", it’s illuminating that it feels the need to do that. With candidates such as Robert Kilroy-Silk who appears to blame all Arabs for the actions of a few terrorists (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/3376633.stm) it’s hardly surprising that the question arises.

    Back in 1997 I attended a public meeting of the Referendum Party (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Referendum_Party) which was a short-lived offshoot of the UKIP to which my MP briefly belonged. My impression of the UKIP owes a lot to what I read and heard there.

    By the way, I don’t suggest that they should be censored. I was just pointing out why postmen might make a conscientious decision not to delvier their material, as they apparently have a right to do. Perhaps they should send it out in plain brown envelopes like mail-order porn (er, so I’ve heard).

  16. Raymond Chen says:

    FQA: Excellent point. I haven’t thought about it too hard, but it does seem that different media have different levels of "free speech-ness". Plus of course that different groups of people themselves have different attitudes towards free speech.

    Broadcast media (as opposed to cable television) have to abide by extra rules because they are considered to be "using public resources" (namely frequency space).

    But you’re right – it’s an inherent conflict.

  17. Aarrgghh says:

    FQA: We tend to think of sex, bodily functions, and so forth as being in a different category from political ideas. This may seem weird, because it seems to imply that nipples are more offensive than racism, and all rational people find racism profoundly objectionable, while nipples are really just a matter of taste. It’s not just racism, though: Throughout history, there have been a LOT of ideas that seemed profoundly objectionable to "all rational people", and many of those ideas are now considered pretty reasonable (e.g. the idea that "slavery is wrong" is now "obvious" to "all right thinking people"; 200 years ago it wasn’t). So, "all rational people" are perfectly capable of being wrong, and besides, the only speech that needs legal protection is the kind that pisses people off.

    So the thinking behind our First Amendment seems to me to be something like this: "Nobody is, and nobody ever WILL be, competent to decide which political ideas can safely be banned."

    Besides, "words never hurt anybody". Or so we tend to believe.

    Now as for the appalling lack of nipples in our broadcast media, I think the problem there is that the "public airwaves" are considered a public trust, and so are for some reason a special case. You can still depict all the nipples you like on a cable channel, or in a movie, book, or magazine.

    It mostly has to do with letting parents set limits on what their kids see: They can choose which cable channels you sign up for, they can choose not to subscribe to Hustler or buy a copy of Naked Lunch, but they can’t stop their TV from receiving Channel 5 (other than by throwing the TV in the river, which IMHO they should do anyway just on general principles).

  18. Moi says:

    Raymond – public resources for which they have paid though, right?

    "nipples are really just a matter of taste"


    By the way, the opinions about nudity in Europe were very different, say, 100 years ago than they are now, so your "nobody ever will be" argument applies to nipples or the right to say "fuck", as well as political opinion.

  19. Aarrgghh says:

    Moi, w/r/t my "nobody will ever be" argument:

    You’re right. I didn’t mean to suggest that US attitudes about nipples on the TV were "correct" in any absolute or eternal sense, nor even that I agree with them.

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