Via Winds of Change, the disturbing truth about freedom of speech – it’s just not that popular anymore!

BBC is doing a week of articles about freedom of speech and of the press to celebrate the 75th anniversary of their World Service. A summary of three short pieces:

Jeffrey Sachs of Columbia University:

We will live or die in the 21st Century according to whether we can co-operate globally… The media can play a unique role in that global problem solving… The central risk is that morbid fear overtakes us, with fear degenerating to hate and conflict… The war coverage itself was overtly propagandistic, with reporters sending home patriotic messages that dehumanized the Iraqi population on the receiving end of the US bombs… The problem with the internet, of course, is that it transmitted considerable flakiness alongside pithy truth telling… We need professional journalism to sort out the gold and the dross that are found on the internet today.

Lame collectivism with the pervasive use of an all-encompassing “we”. A call for responsible journalism, which seems to mean nothing more than journalism Sachs agrees with, and a criticism of the unregulated Internet with its “blog sites”. But no call for outright censorship.

Onora O’Neill, “Philosopher”:

Are sensationalising, even misleading newspapers and broadcasting an inevitable cost of press freedom?.. Press freedom has variously been defended as necessary for discovering truth, as analogous to individual rights of self-expression, or as required for democracy. None of these lines of thought, I believe, justifies unconditional press freedom… Any search for truth needs structures and disciplines. It’s undermined by casual disregard of accuracy or evidence. Unconditional freedom just is not optimal for truth-seeking. Appeals to the right of self-expression also won’t justify unconditional press freedom.

This is particularly chilling. She proposes regulation of news media to cite evidence and conflicts of interest, warn readers of uncertainty and correct errors along with various other no doubt well-intentioned restrictions. Who decides – who judges? Presumably the state, but O’Neill apparently sees no potential problem with allowing the government to judge the accuracy and fairness of reporting. The media just need more “discipline”.

Wole Soyinka, poet and playwright:

Even in a purely theocratic state, there comes a point – surely – at which the state must restrict clerical interference in clearly scientific matters, most especially where human well being and survival are at issue?.. It is time that the worst construction is placed on all forms of discrimination that claim a divine mandate, especially those that transgress against the entitlements of others to a secular dispensation.

And here we get the pernicious concept of hate speech. Preachers can’t advocate their views if they don’t agree with conventional wisdom. She picks the Phelps cult and their Iraq-war funeral pickets as a completely deserving target of hatred, but advocates an outright ban on their “mind pollution”. No mention of freedom of speech or the right to protest. (Incidentally, while I support the rights of the Phelps scum, I believe that arguments for removing them from outside funerals should be made on property-rights grounds rather than vague “hate” crimes). Soyinka believes that freedom of expression just shouldn’t apply to the religious.

Something to say?