Freedom of speech and the power of words.
Freedom of speech would be easy if words did not have power. Words can anger and inspire, cause people to rise up and act out. Words can be used to attack, they can be used to soothe or to express sentiment. The same can be said of pictures, drawings and paintings which can be means to express thoughts, beliefs and ideas. Freedom of speech is the cornerstone of democracy.
The New York Times Article “Where an Internet Joke is not just a Joke” from the October 26, 2011 issue is about the lack of freedom of speech and its consequences in the People’s Republic of China. Its about some very courageous Chinese citizens who dare to overcome the walls erected by the censorship of an ever present government. We all know the internationally renowned government critic and activist Ai Wei Wei who had to deal with the consequences of criticising the government openly. But there are other less famous people like Pin San the cartoonist and Wen Yunchao a blogger. They insist on having the right to free speech even under a political system which in past and the present has threatened the very life of its critics. The article portrays the two men as human beings who insist on the use of human rights in China.
How do they convey their messages to the greater public? Of course, they use the world wide web, the Internet. As the government’s censorship makes it nearly impossible to criticise politics in the open, they use subterfuge and cloaked messages. Pin San through his cartoons and animations and Wen Yunchao through the often coded language on his blog. Wen Yunchao even called censorship “the mother of creativity”. I grew up in a democracy. The countries bordering Germany are democracies. I am so used to the freedom of speech that I can’t imagine living otherwise.
On the other hand I am very aware of the fragility of this most important value. We always have to watch and fight for it when necessary. Obviously, to this very day there are governments in this world who are afraid of people who insist on their rights as free born human beings. Looking back only about 65 to 70 years, some European countries were governed by dictators and fascists. Of course there have to be limitations to every kind of freedom. Freedom in its first place is the freedom of other human beings.
The Supreme Court of the USA recognized limits to freedom of speech, i.e. statements that are uttered to provoke violence ore incite illegal action, libel and slander, obscenity and more. The definitions of the terms obscenity, libel, and slander are given in the text of the amendment. One last question: What about “Political Correctness”?