Freedom of Speech

by Christopher Hitchens:

I am sure that all British journalists will agree with the statement issued by Jodie Ginsberg, chief executive of Index on Censorship, following the murderous attack on the staff of the French magazine Charlie Hebdo:

“The ability to express ourselves freely is fundamental to a free society. This includes the freedom to publish, to satirise, to joke, to criticise, even when that might cause offence to others. Those who wish to silence free speech must never be allowed to prevail”.

Similarly, we can all agree with Michelle Stanistreet, general secretary of the National Union of Journalists, who described the attack as “an attempt to assassinate the free press”. She added:

“Supporters of free speech and civil liberties must stand together with governments to condemn this act and defend the right of all journalists to do their job without fear of threats, intimidation and brutal murder”.

Doubtless, there will be people who think the magazine was overly provocative in publishing cartoons of Islam’s prophet Mohammed. If so, they should think again.

Let them ponder this key clause in the United Nations’ universal declaration of human rights:

“Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference, and impart information and ideas through any media regardless of frontiers”

Press freedom and the freedom of speech allow for newspapers and individual citizens to express views that are offensive. Britain, in company with countries across Europe and the continents of America and Australia, long ago repealed – or never enacted – laws condemning heretics (and blasphemers) to death.

Although we know that Voltaire never did write the words ascribed to him about the right to speak freely, they are, or should be, our maxim:

“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”.

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