Concerning Free Speech

Authoritarian governments do not receive criticism well. They won’t accept it from their citizens and they don’t appreciate it from outsiders. This naturally creates friction between these types of governments and foreign journalists as has been seen time and time again, as demonstrated with Euna Lee and Laura Ling in Korea, and presently in Egypt, and the surrounding region.

The attacks on journalists in Egypt erupted after footage and stories got out about violence being instigated by pro-Mubarak supporters and government agents. By dispensing this information the journalists had portrayed the government as a vindictive agent, more interested in itself than the Egyptian people. In response Mubarak supporters went about confiscating equipment and detaining domestic and foreign journalists. Local news stations were shut down and at least one Al Jazzera station was burned to the ground. “Six Al Jazeera English journalists, who were briefly detained in Egypt, have been released, however; their camera equipment remains confiscated by the military.” Al Jazeera reported.

As long as there is conflict there will be journalists stepping on one side or the other’s toes. It is an aberration that the pursuit of the truth should be treated that way but that is the current state of affairs, and in order to affect change reporters must keep facing these adversities.

If journalism is a tool to help us perform in a democratic society then it is no wonder that corrupt leader have a vested interest in news coverage .Thomas Jefferson once said “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” Reporters must be willing to put their lives on the line if they desire to spread democracy.

While these recent attacks and confiscations are blatant attacks on free speech, democratic societies must keep an eye on censorship.

There was recently a controversy between Google and China, over China’s desire to censor Google searches. China allows for free speech in their constitution, but the exercise of this freedom is highly regulated in China, and journalists have been arrested. More information on the matter can be found from the Congressional executive commission on China.

Censorship is an accepted practice even in the most democratic societies and that is why it is hard to regulate. In this country we still allow some censorship, but it is relatively balanced compared to other parts of the world. Does that make it perfect? No. Ideally the people would be the censors.

Food for thought-

It is illegal to incite rebellion against the government.

The government has an interest in protecting itself but it is a body that exists purely to serve the people.  If it has preformed this function then should it really fear that kind of speech?  A population content with its government would not heed the words of the rebellious. Could this policy of the American government, theoretically, create a situation similar to what is happening in the Middle East? Understanding that the Brandenburg test was created to determine when anti-government action had gone too far, can it always be a reliable gauge?

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