Danger! Censors at work!

basic human rights, freedom of opinion and expression, international human rights law, political correctness,

Danger! Censors at work!

Do you have any idea what’s going on any more? What with false news, ‘alternative facts’ and no platforming, not to mention old-fashioned state censorship in some countries, and political correctness and ‘spin’ in many others, it can at times be really difficult to know what’s what.

Genuine debate that seeks to share ideas and maybe even to change minds seems to be completely ‘off-trend’ in many quarters, and that is a great pity.

We mention this because freedom of speech and freedom of expression are basic human rights. Freedom of expression is recognised under article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in international human rights law. In fact, it’s worth quoting Article 19, not least because it is so wide-ranging:

 “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.”

That said, with rights come responsibilities. Freedom of speech and freedom of expression are not open-ended. It is perfectly proper to restrict these freedoms where exercising them would result in harm – to one and to many. That covers situations such as slander and libel, inciting hatred, murder and other acts of violence, obscenity… you get the drift.

The other side of the coin, however, is where governments or political groups insist that what they say, and that alone, is true, and you get beaten up, jailed or worse for holding or expressing a different view. Think about Nazi Germany, North Korea, the old Soviet Union and the Russia of today… to name a few.

A Frenchman called Voltaire once made a wise comment on freedom of speech when he stated: “I do not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”.

He had a point – and it is one we should not forget.

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