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Freedom of Speech and You

by Mr Weston

With the launch of this hopefully fortnightly collection of political articles from students at Freemen’s, it seems like a good idea to pen a few words about my hopes for how it will develop.

This is an entirely student-led initiative, which is fully supported by the Politics Department.  The hope is that there will be a small number of articles published fortnightly on a variety of topics to do with Politics.  Whilst some articles may well be to do with topics covered by the courses we deliver, there is no requirement for them to be so.  Contributions are sought from writers both inside and outside the Sixth Form on any subject of political relevance.  Articles will be proof-read by the Politics Department and, with luck (and our skill, of course) any typos or grammatical errors will be removed.

Yet the Department will also fulfil a more sinister role, which is – to be blunt – that of a censor.

Whilst Article 19 of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights assures the reader that, “everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression…freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds….in writing or in print”, it also goes on to clarify that this “may be subject to certain restrictions” as exercising such a right carries “special duties and responsibilities”.  In particular, the writer must be careful to protect national security, public order, public health, and morality – and may not damage “the rights or reputation of others”.

Leaving aside the assertion about “with rights come responsibilities” (how can you have a right that you’re only entitled to in certain circumstances?), which is something of a pedantic point, this means that that broadly speaking the Politics Department is going to have to ensure that articles published in this circular do not endanger national security (!), public order, public health or morality, nor contain personal attacks.

To this end, being fully consistent with human rights, as well as being as optimistic as possible about humankind, the Department has three points that need to be made about submissions.

  1. Submissions must seek to encourage political debate or understanding.
  2. Submissions must not function as mouthpieces for the expression of party politics.
  3. Submissions may be critical of actions and approaches but not of individuals, groups, personalities or social characteristics.

Various other requirements have been considered and then rejected.  We want to encourage a broad base of participation; it may be that some people will contribute regularly and others may be moved to write only one or two articles.  Laying down a huge set of rules and regulations is unlikely to achieve this.

As mentioned earlier, the Politics Department has an optimistic view of human nature, so we are choosing to believe that no individual would submit an article that is little more than a stream of vitriolic abuse aimed at a policy, a person, a state or a stance.  Rather, we hope we’ll get a variety of articles on all sorts of topics – and if you think you want to write something, but can’t think of a topic, we will happily suggest some for you to explore.

Freedom of speech is an important tool in the establishment of peaceful politics.  Without freedom to say what they like, individuals have to turn to other methods of expression, some of which could easily be (or become) violent and confrontational.  Restricting freedom of speech removes a powerful check on government activity.  The right to criticise is one of the most important, and to those who argue “there has never been a statue of a critic” – you are wrong.  Mandela was a critic.  So was Gandhi.  So was Churchill.  So was Pankhurst.  So was Seacole.  So was Peel.  So was Lincoln.  So was Dickens.  I could go on, but I think you get the idea.  “To say” is to open the possibility of “to do”.  Why did Airstrip One want to eradicate oldspeak in 1984?  It was because oldspeak gave the user the freedom to express their opinions.  With newspeak, there would be such a tight control on freedom of speech that only basic functions could be expressed, and the state could never fall.

We do not live in Airstrip One, and hopefully we never will.  Preserve our shared ambition of never having to do so by picking up a pen or pulling up a keyboard.  All articles gratefully received.  Seek out any Politics teacher for how to submit.  We want to hear from you.