On freedom of speech and recent horrors

09 Jan

I have a degree in journalism. And most of all, I have a tremendous passion for it, and for anything word-sy. So the horrors that we witnessed this week in Paris, namely the terror attacks and murders at Charlie Hebdo, left me deeply angry, saddened and to be honest — hopeless. I could not make sense of what has happened and why. I cannot even put into words how it all makes me feel.

I come from a country where freedom of speech and good journalism are as rare as an oasis in a desert. However, what gave me peace at night was that in the civilized world, freedom of speech was a basic right — a building block in every democratic society. In the US, they have the First Amendment for that. And now came a group of terrorists who brutally took away lives of people who used this right. And the hell that is likely to be unleashed is intimidating even to think about! Far-right, anti-immigrant, anti-muslim sentiments have been brewing already for a while across a number of places. I do not believe we as humans have learned from history; to put it in economic terms — we do not Bayesian-update!

But I want to go back to the freedom of speech. How many scandals have been uncovered, how many affairs and wrongdoings revealed just because of the efforts of some courageous people, of some relentless journalist who did their job right? Watergate, the Savings and Loan debacle immediately come to my tipsy mind. Have you seen this old late 80’s- early 90’s sitcom, called Murphy Brown? The plot is around this great TV newswoman Murphy Brown and her coworkers. I love that show because it is so old-school, so sharp, so inspiring, and so filled with wishful thinking. The main character is simply my role model — strong, independent, sharp, brilliant reporter, successful, trailblazing and bulldozing her way through territories forbidden for women, raising her son as a single mother. The show was quite popular, so it got the attention of the then US vice-president Dan Quale, who said that shows like that are the demise of family values because they glorify single motherhood. You get the picture.

Yes, it is just a show, and yes, everything is idealised (and I won’t even get into how much I love The Newsroom because it is so good, I will need to cry). In it, everything is how it is supposed to be. Journalists have dignity, they have courage, they are fighting windmills. And oh, how we can use more modern day heroes and more Don Quixotes right now. But wait, speaking your mind about anything at all should not be something for which you chase giants and windmills, it should be unquestionable. It should not be something someone decides to take your life for. And yet, we still do live in a world where doing your job by speaking your mind, by digging deep and unravelling dirty schemes and mis-giving is likely to cause you your life and endanger your loved ones. This is why journalism is my calling but I did not have the guts to stay back in my home country and do it properly. I do not have the idealism, the courage, the insanity to wholeheartedly, ruthlessly, and relentlessly punish the bad guys — with nothing but words.

Let me finish with quoting a part of Edward R Murrow’s response to the actions of senator MacCarthy:

“We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty. We must remember always that accusation is not proof and that conviction depends upon evidence and due process of law. We will not walk in fear, one of another. We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason, if we dig deep in our history and our doctrine, and remember that we are not descended from fearful men — not from men who feared to write, to speak, to associate and to defend causes that were, for the moment, unpopular.
This is no time for men who oppose Senator McCarthy’s methods to keep silent, or for those who approve. We can deny our heritage and our history, but we cannot escape responsibility for the result. We proclaim ourselves, as indeed we are, the defenders of freedom, wherever it continues to exist in the world, but we cannot defend freedom abroad by deserting it at home.
The actions of the junior Senator from Wisconsin have caused alarm and dismay amongst our allies abroad, and given considerable comfort to our enemies. And whose fault is that? Not really his. He didn’t create this situation of fear; he merely exploited it — and rather successfully. Cassius was right. “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.
Good night, and good luck.”

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Posted by on January 9, 2015 in Freedom of speech


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