I think it’s fair to say that issues associated with free speech have been a recurring feature of our news in the last month, from the removal of Colston’s statue in Bristol, to the Hong Kong National Security law, to the very public debate on “cancel culture”. It seems a day doesn’t go by without a reference to free speech or someone pontificating on where the limits should be.
There are lots of things missing in the current conversation about free speech though – at least for me. The most crucial of which is why free speech is a core human right. Why does it matter if our voices are limited? If we can’t write or create art who does that hurt? If we don’t know what’s going on around the world – does it make a difference to our families?
I’m hoping that if you’re reading this then you share my view that being able to use our voices and to listen to each other gives us our humanity.
As a core tenet, our right to free speech has built the society that we live in – at least here in the UK. It has given us the literature which changes our perceptions of the world. Art that provokes emotion, academia which challenges the world as we know it and ensures that our society continues to develop and thrive. And of course, journalism which, on a daily basis, exposes the powerful and seeks to provide the ultimate scrutiny.
July 2020 has been an awful month to be a journalist in Britain. The BBC, The Guardian and Reach (the owner of the Daily Mirror and the Daily Express as well as numerous local and regional papers) have all announced redundancies. Meanwhile, the Archant group (which also own dozens of local papers) is desperately seeking a new buyer. Covid-19 is having a devastating effect on the media on which we rely to make sure that corruption is reported, that repressive regimes are exposed and that provides a platform to speak truth to power. So, if you don’t already, it’s time to subscribe to a newspaper to make sure that journalism as a profession survives the 2020s.
Freedom of journalistic expression is vital for our society and in an era of disinformation and counter-propaganda, reliable and constant sources of information have never been more important. If it wasn’t for investigative journalists then we would not know of the horrendous plight of the Uighurs who, as I write, are are being transported to concentration camps in the Xinjiang province. We wouldn’t know of the women who are being sterilised by order of the state and of the children who are being re-educated.
Journalists at their best shine a light in the darkness and their bravery and determination makes the world listen and forces governments to act. I pray that, even in the middle of this awful pandemic, we listen to those brave voices reported in our daily newspapers and stand with the Uighurs against what can only be described as acts of genocide.