Comment: The death of freedom of speech in the West

Freedom of speech, definitive to some while flexible to others, has been long debated.

A Google search has given me this definition: Freedom of speech is defined as the power or right to express one’s opinions without censorship, restraint or legal penalty.

That means I can say what I want, where and when I want (unless it incites hatred against someone on the grounds of their race or religion) – and no one can do anything about it.

Under Article 10 of the Human Rights Act 1998, everyone has the right to the ‘freedom to express opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference of public authority and regardless of frontiers’.

Yet in the West, freedom of speech has been reduced to a joke, in comparison to other parts of the world.

Why? Because people today are more concerned about feelings and how much you might offend someone over championing the free expression of opinions and ideas.

There have been many times I have questioned our Western response to freedom of speech. For example: the Maya Jama tweet which resulted in huge backlash for the radio host. The Reggie Yates ‘attack’ on the Jewish community. Even as far as Tommy Robinson and other far-right leaders.

Though I don’t agree with the way these examples have chosen to exercise their right to freedom of speech, accusations of being ‘offensive’ have been hurled at all and no one seems to see a problem with it.

Who decides when something is offensive? And what gives people the right to abuse those they believe to have offended them?

The principle of freedom of speech became debatable when Western society changed between the 1940s-1980s. In this time, religion (namely Christianity)  became less influential, institutional racism largely disappeared and equality between men and women began to emerge as mainstream culture became flooded with different people and ideas.

Fast Forward to 2018 and society is much more inclusive – the mentality that body shaming, racial slurs, religious prejudice, harassment of one’s sexual orientation and pretty much everything else has meant today – anything can be considered offensive.

And as a result we are all both the victim and perpetrator.

But what happened to words are just words? These days, words can cost you your job, fiance and pizza order.

More seriously, outside of Western society, words can cost you your freedom.

While we in the western world focus on political correctness, inclusion and equality, other parts of the world have a very different approach to freedom of speech and expression.

For example, parts of Asia, notably China and North Korea, are known all too well for their restrictions on freedom of speech.

Last week the BBC reported Chinese Activist Sun Wenguang was arrested during a live interview. According to the reports the last thing he said before being forced off air was: “I have my freedom of speech”.

Many, including Maya Wang at the BBC,  have commented on China’s crackdown of the free flow of information, stating: “At any moment, police officers can arrive to take them away to be interrogated, detained, tortured or mistreated, simply for challenging the authorities narratives and speaking to foreign media.”

Other reports paint a similar story, people being denied their right to freedom of speech.

While this continues to happen across the world – though challenged at times – the majority of us  would rather hurl insults at Kanye for his ‘slavery is a choice’ comment than actively fight for a  universal definition of freedom of speech along with a universal recognition of it.

So my message to you is this:

While what people may say, believe or do with their right to freedom of speech may cause you offense, please remember it’s not set in stone.

Instead, get offended over the lack of equality and human rights in places where no one batted an eyelid over Kanye’s statement.

Related Articles