• Alwia

The Limitations of Freedom of Speech

Updated: Oct 3, 2018

So last night I watched the hilariously offensive ‘The Interview’, which is the key inspiration behind this post.  The basic premise of the movie is that two of the dumbest men in America are able to take down the regime in North Korea and assassinate its President, Kim Jong-un. Naturally, the movie sparked a great deal of outrage from the North Korean regime which threatened retaliation. Sony Pictures was subsequently hacked, cinema screenings of the movie were cancelled and Obama even made a statement against the acceptance of any form of censorship from a foreign country.   So this got me thinking: where do we draw the line when it comes to free speech? And can all or any act  be justified simply due to the grand principle of freedom of speech? Although I’m risking sounding like a dictator,

I’m going to say: no. And these are the reasons why:

1- It doesn’t exist

Censorship on differing levels exists in all countries. Yes all. Even so called ‘democratic’ ones. If I decided to publish an article attacking Jews or black people, it would be considered anti-Semitic or racist. The idea that there are censorship-free countries is false. In fact, not only do democratic countries censor the obvious, such as any act that discriminates against a group, but they also censor things that go against their political interests. I remember George Galloway once discussed the way in which the BBC censors anti-Israel or pro-Palestinian sentiments.

2- Complete freedom is overrated

The 'State' regulates the behavior of its citizens but putting in place laws, regulations and punishments. Complete freedom does not exist because if it did we would be living in anarchy. The same can be applied to freedom of speech. It is regulated to varying degrees depending on the country. Democracies censor, but less than dictatorships.

3- Complete freedom of speech is impractical and unwise

Wisdom seems to be an outdated notion these days, but it is so important. Although it is never justifiable to kill or harm any person for their beliefs and ideas, certain manifestations of ‘freedom of speech’ are provocative and can cause a lot of harm. The Charlie Hebdo shootings are an example of this. I’m all for pushing the boundaries, but there are times when individuals make impractical and unwise decisions in the name of freedom of speech. There is a measurable amount of selfishness in damaging relations and risking innocent lives for the sake of saying something you want to say- especially if you are aware of the risk.

4- Daily censorship is all around us

Censorship and diplomacy are natural parts of daily life. If everyone began to speak or act without any regulation, a lot of people would be hurt. Practicing complete freedom of speech is basically verbal diarrhea, and no one likes that…

5- What people say/write is an important responsibility

People can underestimate the power of words. It is very difficult to take back something once it is said publicly.  What we say is a great responsibility and condoning complete freedom of speech allows individuals the space to act irresponsibly.  A level of censorship is important for making sure that individuals don’t go too far.

6- So where do you draw the line?

This an extremely subjective point and is almost impossible to answer. But the point is:  even though individuals will disagree as to where to draw this line, a line must be drawn somewhere.  Freedom of speech is essential for a society’s growth, development and creativity. However, it has its dangers and risks and so, like many other things in life, it should never be romanticized and turned into a blind ideal that can be used to justify everything.


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