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Friday, December 02, 2011

Freedom of Speech vs Freedom from Criticism

EDITORIAL: Freedom of speech does not imply freedom from criticism

"Freedom of speech is the cornerstone of any successful democracy. Any modern society that does not allow its citizens to express concerns or grievances in at least some manner is one that is doomed to long-term failure.

That being said, the concept of freedom of speech is one that is frequently misunderstood, even by those who depend upon such a right for their livelihood. “My freedom of speech” has become conflated with “freedom from criticism of my speech,” and every time this fallacious equivalence rears its head it minimizes the struggles of those who face true challenges to their freedoms.

Every media figure faces the prospect of criticism. Every media figure with an audience surpassing his immediate family experiences criticism, and the more successfully he does his job the more criticism he receives. Yet, people refusing to place an imprimatur of approval on a journalist’s speech after the fact does not abridge his freedom; his words are still free to influence whomever they will. Likewise, when a publication makes a poor decision and readers express a modicum of disapproval, that publication is not the victim of speech suppression; on the contrary, citizens with the same right to express their various and sundry opinions are exercising the most important freedom of all.

One’s speech is suppressed when government censors must approve a work prior to its publication. One’s speech is suppressed when speech codes choke words, even unpleasant and unfortunate ones, from the vocabulary. One’s speech is suppressed when he is beaten with sticks for complaining about the local royalty. However, one’s speech is not suppressed when he says something others find objectionable and the offended express their distaste. In fact, such arguments are the only means by which discourse can hope to improve.

This is not to say that all criticism of speech is necessarily well thought out or valid — far from it. However, when one assumes a public stance on a controversial issue, one should not only expect but welcome public disagreement, as the process of argument ultimately benefits everyone."
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