Monday, August 06, 2012

Freedom of Speech

So, is freedom of speech an absolute right or a qualified one? Probably the latter. As many are fond of reminding us, you do not have the freedom to shout 'Fire' in a crowded theatre when there is no fire.

But, given that there is a line to be drawn, where does it go? Freedom of speech carries with it great responsibility. Firstly to speak on behalf of those who who have no voice and secondly, probably, to yourself. A Somalian comedian lies dead today because his audience couldn't take a joke. It is a sign of a mature society that it can laugh at itself. But is joking in a place where you know that joke will get you into trouble, and may bring you harm, a glorious display of unwillingness to be shackled or a stupid act of self-destruction? Possibly fearing the fatwa Jeremy Paxman is more likely, as he did recently, to risk upsetting Christians than Muslims. But sometimes speaking out, however great the risk, is the only way to draw attention to the hideousness of a regime. Pussy Riot will end up in prison; the Sex Pistols ended up in an Olympic opening ceremony. Which nation is the most mature?

I am a fan of freedom of speech. Regardless of who might read me I embrace as catharsis the tweet, blog and status update that the social media offer me. I rejoice that the Paul Chambers' tweet threatening to blow up an airport was finally, after far too long, seen as the poor joke it was meant to be. I despise utterly the tweet that told Tom Daley he had let his late father down but I hesitate to say that the writer should be prosecuted. People tweet horrible things. Guess what? They say them too. Always have and always will.

With my delight in freedom of speech comes the duty to occupy the space provided by the social media responsibly. I say a lot. Sometimes light; occasionally heavy. Often whimsical, here and there critical and all mixed up together. My tongue is not unfamiliar with my cheek. I may apologise if the offence I never mean is taken but rarely for saying what I meant.

What do you think of the Olympic Games in the UK? Feel free to say.

No comments: