I am often asked to explain what freedom of expression means by the people I meet. After all, my role at Index is to protect and promote the fundamental human right of freedom of expression, especially with regards to writers, artists and scholars. In order to protect their rights, every day we defend the right of everyone to speak freely, to write, to create.
Last week, someone asked for my opinion on whether the right to freedom of expression implies the freedom to be heard. But one doesn’t necessarily follow on from the other.
Index exists to not just protect and promote the right of freedom of expression but also to provide a platform for political dissidents wherever they are. Our work should always be viewed through that prism as it’s our raison d’etre. The rest of our work to support and protect the voices of others is complementary to our work on dissidents, but no one should doubt that at our core it’s dissidents that we seek to promote.
Index seeks not only to ensure that dissidents have the ability to speak out, we do everything we can to make sure that they are heard. That their fear and hopes are known, that their works and art can be used to inform and educate both at home and abroad. And most importantly we seek to ensure that their experiences and views are told in their own words and in their own way. Our job is then to make sure that people notice. That people can be heard. And we do that across every one of our platforms. And by using our freedoms to amplify their stories. It’s a privilege and a joy to get to work with people throughout the world who are bravely challenging the status quo and demanding better from their governments.
But while I am proud to amplify the words and experiences of dissidents, there are others who we may not want to hear.
Every day I defend the right of people, with views and values different to my own, to have the right to express themselves. To have the right to freedom of speech and expression. But no one has the right to be heard. You have to earn that right. And hate speech, extremist speech, propaganda and misinformation, they don’t have to be heard. But people have the right to hold the views. It’s a nuanced position and can be difficult to apply in a world of the internet, social media platforms, algorithms and bots. But we must always remember that freedom of speech does not equate to a right to be heard.