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Freedom of Speech is a Human Right, not an American Privilege

After the Charlie Hebdo murders, I tweeted about the attack on free speech that had just been perpetrated, about my hope that news editors and producers would show the courage to share with their readers the cartoons that led to the deaths of these brave and honest journalists, and about my disgust with some news organizations that pixelated or refused to run the images for their audiences.

Predictably and unfortunately, I received responses arguing that this devotion to free speech was peculiarly American and that I should take account of the offense that Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons would cause for some readers and viewers.

This discussion reminded me of a journalists’ conference I attended at the BBC a few years ago at which some participants argued that people in China did not want free speech. I’ve also heard people say that people from Arab nations are not ready for free speech.

Bullshit.

I choose that word carefully. As an American, I am privileged to be able to use a word that some call offensive and even profane, for “bullshit” is political speech.

Standing for free speech is not American. It is logical. If one allows a government to control—to censor—offensive speech, then no speech will be allowed, except that which government approves, for any speech can offend anyone and then all speech is controlled.

The idea that speech should be controlled to limit offense is itself offensive to the principles of a free, open, and modern society. That is what the Charlie Hebdo murders teach us.

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Written by

Blogger & prof at CUNY’s Newmark J-school; author of Geeks Bearing Gifts, Public Parts, What Would Google Do?, Gutenberg the Geek

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