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Sunday, 16 September 2012

Freedom of Speech: What Should Limit It And What Shouldn’t?

Although we miss out on the joy of ultrasound enjoyed by bats and crocodiles, we alone can read, speak and write in the animal kingdom. The resulting enhanced expression, not only splits us from the rest - including 98% gene sharing primates - it helps us tame nature and progress. However, almost suggesting ‘It’s one thing to have the ability, it’s quite another to use it’, neither the expression nor the progress has been quick and smooth. As it was restricted by political, socio-religious and personal constraints, more of secrets - our own and of other people - and less of expressions have ruled our history.

While political constraint gave critique of monarch or his system a big ‘NO’ and religion one saw Catholic Church produce Dark Age that made the West rely on the Arabs for the Greek gem, personal secrecy produced social taboos. However, with reformation hitting the Church and revolutions hitting monarchs constrained lessened and enlightenment dawned. When the enlightened beings received Voltaire’s ‘I may not agree with what you say, but I will fight to the death your right to say it’, they enshrined it. And when Freud emerged, even personal/social taboo went on leave. Even ‘Russians can stand on top of Kremlin and shout anything against President Ronald Reagan’ worries Russians less now and blasphemy law, that killed many, is in coma.

However, with banks asking us not to divulge our mother’s maiden name and password, and government ministers obliged to take oath of secrecy, even secrecy, paradoxically, helps progress. Although patient’s secrecy of bowel movement that causes delayed cancer presentation still bothers colon specialists, desire for cash and 15 minutes fame still ask for watershed time and restrictive laws.

In fact, dividing world into private and public, invasion of privacy has emerged. While bringing private phone talk to public – as a London paper realised- and pictures (especially of the royal family) – as a Paris paper is realising - get a legal ‘NO’, making state secret public almost demands blood  - as Wikileak’s asylum seeking Assange is realising.

Although that sounds easy, limit of constitution enshrined free speech is giving headache to modern thinkers. Although ‘hate speech is a no’ is soothing, what constitutes hate speech isn’t. In this instance, the world is confused about how to intellectually respond to the prophet Mohammed criticising recent YouTube video that has caused major protests in the Arab world resulting in US ambassador’s death in Libya. We, however, believe that the defining rules are very clear.

Although free speech enhances progress and Internet helps, it should not be unlimited like the broadband. However, critical approach to any subject – freedom of speech - should be limited only by the following two factors:

  1. Factors that are innate and cannot normally be changed e.g. race, gender, sexuality etc.
  2. Factors that are not true.

Although the said video is said to be of low quality, irrespective of that, if what is said is a lie then that video should be taken off the channel.


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