The Importance of Freedom of Speech

I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.
– Voltaire

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

-Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

In light of recent events I thought I would write about the importance of freedom of speech in the world. Today in Iran there are protests over the results of their election, allegedly rigged. The government has responded by trying to silence these protests by attempting to censor and block the internet, mobile networks and any other type of communication. While the government has been somewhat successful in blocking larger news corporations from getting information – there has been a new side of news which they cannot block, namely Twitter.

Surprisingly enough twitter is actually an extremely effective method of communication for these protestors and it is changing the dynamics of this media warfare entirely, the game has changed forever. Already we are seeing attempted counters to the resistance: fake accounts spamming false information and the tracking down of iranians who use the network. Counter-counter measures have been thrown back at them as supporters from all around the world change their location to Tehran in an attempt to throw off such attempts.

I am not going to make a judgement on the cause of the protests or their legitimacy, but I will go so far as to say that I wholeheartedly support their attempts to be heard. The blocking of information by any government is a horrible offense, it is a crime against humanity and is something which we should not tolerate in the modern world. One of the fundamental ideals democracy requires to work is that of freedom of speech and sadly this is not an ideal yet held by a large portion of the world. There are two main types of freedom of speech and I want to cover why both of these types are immoral and wrong.

Type 1: Censorship (No Eyes, No Ears)

Censorship is when the access to material is prohibited from viewing. This can occur on many different levels, with differing levels of protest – I disapprove of all types. Censorship is wrong because it involves one group of people deciding that another group of people cannot hear/see something. The group which is hiding the material is a “judge” in this case, they seem to assume they have a right to judge the material. Such judging is subjective and entirely inappropriate for any person or people to do. The key point is that censorship is a form of deception, it involves you preventing someone else from knowing what you know. Such deception leads to a lack of transparency and inequality among people.

On the “lowest” level of censorship we have discriminatory censorship, where a particular group of people is prevented from seeing something. This is quite common across the world in the form of age-based discrimination, for example R18 movies or the legal age to watch pornography. I should clarify that I still believe that in these cases there should be restrictions to allow parents the ability choose what their children see – but there should not be such sweeping restrictions overall.

The next level up is the censorship of a certain type of material. This may be “bleeping” or “black-barring” television, or it may take the form of banning books (for example Orwell’s Animal Farm or Hitler’s Mein Kamph). This type of censorship does not discriminate, but rather bans from everyone. This can be particularly dangerous as religious groups often try to impose this type of censorship in order to block out views which oppose their own (a form of trickery).

Finally there is wide-scale censorship, which involves blocking news or the internet. This is the type of censorship which is worrying in Iran today. This is usually only carried out by large organizations and is possibly the most worrying type of censorship. Other examples in the world are of course the Great Firewall of China, another crime against humanity which horrendously censors the internet. Even in my own Australia we have the government attempting to censor “terrorist sites” from the general public – this is of course completely ridiculous and is yet another form of immoral censorship.

Type 2: Media Blackout (No Mouth)

Stopping people from listening is one thing, stopping them from speaking is another. Not being able to have your voice heard is completely immoral. Every person on this planet deserves the right to speak about their rights, the right to vote for their beliefs and the right to explain and promote their beliefs through public media. Whether these beliefs be ridiculous (like claiming man never landed on the moon) or whether they are controversial (lets bring back the Nazi party) they still deserve to be said. Whether they are right, wrong or downright horrible does not matter – what is important is that people have the right to express those opinions without fear of persecution.

At the moment this is not the case in Iran, or in many other places in the world for that matter. I’ll end with a quote from a controversial and often censored tv show, South Park which in their episode “Cartoon Wars” gives an impressive summary of this argument (which is of course immediately dismissed for comic effect in the cartoon):

We are united in the belief that every person has the right to say what they want. Its been real easy for us to stand up for free speech lately, for the past few decades we haven’t had to risk anything to defend it. But those times are going to come, and one of those times is right now. And if we are not willing to risk what we have, then we just believe in free speech – we don’t defend it.

So I ask you to defend free speech in the world, defend it in Iran today and everywhere else in the world where it is being threatened.


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~ by Myles O'Neill on June 17, 2009.

One Response to “The Importance of Freedom of Speech”

  1. To see close to a million people defying threats of violence to show their disappoval was a surprise, considering Iran’s image.

    I agree with you when you suggest that freedom of speech should definitely go both ways- we should have the right to say and to believe what ever we like, and of course a bunch of people would say that they agree.

    But when you get such an uproar over things like the “Make A Wish Foundation” sketch on the Chaser a couple of weeks ago, it kind of makes you wonder.

    Of course, whether it was funny or not is another question entirely. In my opinion, it sucked like some sort of vacuum cleaner enhanced with found technology from the future (oh, good analogy. here i come, analogy olympics). But then I think most of the Chaser’s output since 2005 has been pretty lame.

    I didn’t agree with their petty and unnecessary, unfunny sketch, but I’ll defend to my death their right to perform it.

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