July 30, 2017
In Praise of American Free Speech
For all of its problems, America still retains world prominence in the realm of freedom of speech. Perhaps Sweden, Norway, and other social democracies offer greater amounts.
But we have it good here.
Fellow bloggers, journalists, and other writers in the US can say what they want. I rant on about Trump. Charles Blow of the New York Times rants way more boldly than me. So do many others.
Further, you can stand in a public place and rant about Trump as much as you like. You can preach Christianity, spurt out fascist ideology, promote whatever cause you desire.
It’s a precious gift.
In contrast, developments in Turkey, Russia, Mexico, and China reveal a disturbing trend towards clamping down on free speech.
Last week, Turkey began trials of 17 staff members of the Cumhuriyet newspaper, accusing the journalists of involvement in the 2016 failed coup. One faces up to 43 years in prison. Hundreds of journalists have been imprisoned; many media outlets have been shut down.
According to the Press Freedom Index, Russia ranked 148th out of 179 countries in terms of freedom of the press. Many journalists have been killed, not only imprisoned.
It is literally life-threatening to work as a journalist in Russia.
In Mexico, threats to journalists come from narco-traffickers, not from governmental tyranny. The government, however, has been powerless to stop it.
Javier Cárdenas, a journalist renowned for fearless reporting of the drug wars destroying Mexico, was recently killed. Hundreds of others have been similarly executed, some in broad daylight, for daring to describe the horrors committed by gangs involved in drug smuggling.
Ironically, soon after the news of Cárdenas’s death went public, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto described his government as “committed to press freedom.”
China, deserving some slack because of its ancient Confucian origins, nonetheless shows an abrupt decline in press freedom. Lin Tianhong, a 29-year-old reporter at China Youth Daily, spent two weeks trawling the Sichuan province after the 7.9 magnitude, May 2008 earthquake. His stories passed through governmental censors, but most of his reports were published.
Since President Xi Jinping assumed power in 2012, however, the government has launched an all-out assault on freedom of expression. It has jailed journalists, bloggers, and civil rights lawyers. A 70-year-old journlist, Gau Yu, was recently imprisoned for allegedly leaking state secrets. Also arrested was another journalist, Wang Xiaolu, a business reporter for one of China’s top financial magazines. She was forced to make a televised “confession” for writing a story about the country’s stock market turmoil.
Reporters without Borders ranks China as 176th out of 180 countries in terms of press freedom. A recent article in The Guardian reports that many young Chinese journalists are quitting their jobs, looking for careers elsewhere. According to David Bandurski, an expert in Chinese journalism at the University of Hong Kong, talented young journalists are fleeing the profession in droves. He added,
We have reporters in their 30s and 40s who generally would be at the height of their professional careers in journalism who have left. The mood is quite dismal right now in China’s media.
I have been invited to teach in Hong Kong in March of 2018. For the first time in my life, I wonder if I will have any difficulty entering the country as a result of my writings.
In writing about psychoanalytic, philosophical, and political events in this blog, I have tended to take my freedom of expression for granted.
I no longer do.
Moreover, we Americans need not stand by and let the (perhaps) growing clamp down on this basic freedom go unnoticed.
The globe is turning into a human family. We should strive to prevent our brothers and sisters around the world from deprivation of this basic freedom.
If you want to help, I’d suggest two organizations for your donations or your membership:
Reporters without Borders
The Committee to Protect Journalists
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