Why Is Freedom Of Speech Important Essay

Professor Chris Frost, the former head of journalism at Liverpool John Moores University, told Index of the importance of allowing every individual view to be heard, and that those who fear taking on opposing ideas and seek to silence or no-platform should consider that it is their ideas that may be wrong. He said: “If someone’s views or policies are that appalling then they need to be challenged in public for fear they will, as a prejudice, capture support for lack of challenge. If we are unable to defeat our opponent’s arguments then perhaps it is us that is wrong.

“I would also be concerned at the fascism of a majority (or often a minority) preventing views from being spoken in public merely because they don’t like them and find them difficult to counter. Whether it is through violence or the abuse of power such as no-platform we should always fear those who seek to close down debate and impose their view, right or wrong. They are the tyrants. We need to hear many truths and live many experiences in order to gain the wisdom to make the right and justified decisions.”

Free speech has been the topic of many debates in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attacks. The terrorist attack on the satirical magazine’s Paris office, in January 2015, has led to many questioning whether free speech is used as an excuse to be offensive.

Many world leaders spoke out in support of Charlie Hebdo and the hashtag #Jesuischarlie was used worldwide as an act of solidarity. However, the hashtag also faced some criticism as those who denounced the attacks but also found the magazine’s use of a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammed offensive instead spoke out on Twitter with the hashtag #Jenesuispascharlie.

After the city was the victim of another terrorist attack at the hands of ISIS at the Bataclan Theatre in November 2015, President François Hollande released a statement in which he said: “Freedom will always be stronger than barbarity.” This statement showed solidarity across the country and gave a message that no amount of violence or attacks could take away a person’s freedom.

French cartoonist t0ad told Index about the importance of free speech in allowing him to do his job as a cartoonist, and the effect the attacks have had on free speech in France: “Mundanely and along the same tracks, it means I can draw and post (social media has changed a hell of a lot of notions there) a drawing without expecting the police or secret services knocking at my door and sending me to jail, or risking being lynched. Cartoonists in some other countries do not have that chance, as we are brutally reminded. Free speech makes cartooning a relatively risk-free activity; however…

“Well, you know the howevers: Charlie Hebdo attacks, country law while globalisation of images and ideas, rise of intolerances, complex realities and ever shorter time and thought, etc.

“As we all see, and it concerns the other attacks, the other countries. From where I stand (behind a screen, as many of us), speech seems to have gone freer … where it consists of hate – though this should not be defined as freedom.”

In the spring 2015 issue of Index on Censorship, following the Charlie Hebdo attacks, Richard Sambrook, professor of Journalism and director of the Centre for Journalism at Cardiff University, took the opportunity to highlight the number journalists that a murdered around the world every day for doing their job, yet go unnoticed.

Sambrook told Index why everyone should have the right to free speech: “Firstly, it’s a basic liberty. Intellectual restriction is as serious as physical incarceration. Freedom to think and to speak is a basic human right. Anyone seeking to restrict it only does so in the name of seeking further power over individuals against their will. So free speech is an indicator of other freedoms.

“Secondly, it is important for a healthy society. Free speech and the free exchange of ideas is essential to a healthy democracy and – as the UN and the World Bank have researched and indicated – it is crucial for social and economic development. So free speech is not just ‘nice to have’, it is essential to the well-being, prosperity and development of societies.”

Ian Morse, a member of the Index on Censorship youth advisory board told Index how he believes free speech is important for a society to have access to information and know what options are available to them.

He said: “One thing I am beginning to realise is immensely important for a society is for individuals to know what other ideas are out there. Turkey is a baffling case study that I have been looking at for a while, but still evades my understanding. The vast majority of educated and young populations (indeed some older generations as well) realise how detrimental the AKP government has been to the country, internationally and socially. Yet the party still won a large portion of the vote in recent elections.

“I think what’s critical in each of these elections is that right before, the government has blocked Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook – so they’ve simultaneously controlled which information is released and produced a damaging image of the news media. The media crackdown perpetuates the idea that the news and social media, except the ones controlled by the AKP, are bad for the country.”

Freedom is one of the most precious possessions that we can have. For centuries, men have fought and died for freedom and this is still continuing today. As we all know, there are many in the world who have sacrificed comfort in life and freedom as a result of expressing what is in their hearts.

Freedom of speech refers to the right of the individual to express his views about matters of interest to him/her whilst freedom of the press would refer to the freedom of written word in printed form and that BOTH refer to the freedom of THOUGHT and are the outward expressions of our THOUGHTS.

George Orwell in Nineteen Eighty-Four depicts a society where freedom of speech is denied and he argues there as to whether thought is possible without any external stimuli. (For more, please click here) The long and short of it is that distortion of facts, limiting areas of thought and expression, not only stagnates but destroys the human mind, creativity, potential and retards the development of relationship between man with himself and man with others!!!

Freedom of speech is not the freedom to hurt or harm others. Yet, some in our society who do the latter most insidiously, using others to hurt others be it in the political arena or in society. Personally, I strongly advocate that freedom should stem from a full, creative life which is satisfying for ourselves and can lead to the betterment and growth of society.

The ability to think and to speak are the two abilities that distinguish us from lower life forms. Thus, to me, the denial of these two basic freedoms is a DENIAL OF MAN’S HUMANITY!!! As long as conditions are repressive, thought processes cannot function normally.

A society that muzzles the press and the freedom of opinion may be equated with one that forbids THINKING and in doing so, will pave the way for it to stagnate. There is more to life than physical comfort and the possession of luxury items or non-essential comforts of life. Throughout the ages, man has fought and died for freedom. Like what I mentioned before, freedom of speech is fundamental to the functioning of democracy.

I opine that such types of freedom enable men to make life creative, progressive and meaningful. Stop. Think. Are we at that stage in Malaysia? Think hard.

We must remind ourselves that unfettered freedom is a chimera and can be a danger to the established order and the economic well-being of the country.

Freedom of the press (and blogosphere) must be used to bring to the fore the views of the public (and not that of the individual), whether they are critical of, or in support of the government; and it can even be a bulwark against government excesses.

Intelligent opinions and constructive criticisms should not be smothered, for such suppression can create a groundswell that is inimical to the government. As bloggers and even journalists, we must always remember that views that are inimical to the state, if given free scope, can spell disaster e.g. sowing the seeds of discord. History shows that in countries where restrictions were placed on such freedoms, the dictatorial regimes fell. This happened in India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Pakistan etc. where the rulers insulated themselves against political criticism and this led to their death or downfall.

Take a look at what Malaysiakini reported here:

Malaysia crashed into the bottom quarter of 173 countries in the worldwide press freedom ranking index released today by Paris-based watchdog Reporters sans Frontieres (RSF, Reporters Without Borders).

In the latest 2008 ranking, Malaysia fell eight spots to 132. Last year, it was placed 124th while in 2006, it was at 92.

Asia Sentinel reported here that :

Malaysia (132) has suddenly found itself in the embarrassing position of being sandwiched between Nigeria (131) and Chad (133) as the government’s crackdowns on journalists, bloggers and activists take their toll in the country’s international press freedom ranking.

I dream of a Malaysia where we have an enlightened government that allows freedom in communication, criticism, change and growth and that the government will always remember that by restricting such freedoms to avoid criticism to preserve a static condition, they are actually sowing the seeds for ultimate destruction!!!

The people in East Berlin courted arrest in order to preserve those forms of freedom discussed here. Deep thinkers who have freshness of thought and expression, incisive writing, fearlessness, a drive to seek justice etc. would find it absolutely suffocating to be limited by any restrictions. More important than bread or economic well-being is the freedom by which man wants to live.

To live without freedom is to live in fetters, and one’s personality should not be lost in an attempt by certain characters to force one to be subservient to a system or a person. Yet, freedom, when not misused, is a boon. With freedom, comes responsibility - responsibility in reporting, blogging, speaking and expressing our thoughts. So, the betterment of society depends on the right exercise of freedom which should not be taken away from us in any guise, rhetoric or policy.

It is my hope that the government, together with the rest of society will nourish our freedom (speech and press) perhaps to the same level as that of the British from whom we learned the principles of democracy.
For further reading on why freedom of expression is good for us, check out this excellent article at Aliran.

Copyright © masterwordsmith 2009.


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