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Free Speech

Media (R)evolutions: As Internet access expands, demand for freedom of expression online also increases

Roxanne Bauer's picture

New developments and curiosities from a changing global media landscape: People, Spaces, Deliberation brings trends and events to your attention that illustrate that tomorrow's media environment will look very different from today's, and will have little resemblance to yesterday's.

Despite a widely documented global decline in Internet freedom, people around the world still embrace fundamental democratic values, including the right to free speech.

A new Pew Research Center survey finds that majorities in 32 of 38 countries polled state it is important to live in a country where people can use the internet without government censorship. Pew interviewed 40,786 people between April 5 - May 21, 2015 and found that even though internet freedom ranks last among the six broad democratic rights included on the survey, a median of 50% believe it is very important to live in a country with an uncensored internet. The strongest support for internet freedom is found in Argentina, the U.S., Germany and Spain, where about 70% of the populations consider it very important, and it the lowest support can be found in Burkina Faso and Indonesia, where only 21% in both countries think it’s important.  

There is a strong correlation between the percentage of people in a country who use the internet and the percentage who say a free internet is very important, demonstrating that as people gain access to the Web, the salience and desire for freedom in cyberspace also grows.
 
Global Support for Principles of Free Expression
Publics with Higher Rates of Internet Usage More Likely to Prioritize Internet Freedom

The polluters of the public sphere

Sina Odugbemi's picture

Defending Freedom of Speech?As it should, the world is worrying about the pollution of the atmosphere and its deleterious impact on our planet, and efforts to do something about it all are, happily, intensifying. But there are pollutions and polluters of a different kind, and, sadly, there is no global effort as yet to do something about them. I refer to the polluters of national public spheres and the polluters of the global public sphere.

Let’s begin at the country level. What is going on is truly scary. In both developing countries and supposedly mature democracies more and more political leaders are giving themselves the permission to spout incendiary nonsense. Most political communities these days are deeply plural, often multiethnic, multinational or multi-sectarian, or all of the above. It was always understood that if you want peace and harmony in these political communities there are things major leaders or candidates for high office simply do not say; there are lines that they simply do not cross. Now, all these restraints are being sundered in several countries. Major figures are willing to say just about anything no matter how offensive or provocative.

In the supposedly advanced liberal constitutional democracies, the raw competition for power, the pressure of the migrant/refugee crisis, shifts in the composition of the electorate, all these things appear to be leading to an outbreak of demagoguery. There is a race to the bottom as right wingers seek to outbid frankly racist political parties. Rhetorical excesses are undoing the work of many decades in these societies. I refer to hitherto successful efforts to evolve norms of restrained and civil discourse in the public sphere, and to promote rationality in public affairs generally. Now, in more and more of these societies there seems to be a competition to see who can be the most brazen and offensive, to see who can go ‘there’ with the most reckless abandon.

Who Decides What is Acceptable Speech in the Global Public Sphere?

Sina Odugbemi's picture

Is free speech a fundamental right and does it have appropriate limits? Pope Francis has provided the most memorable recent attempt at an answer. Yes, there is such a thing as a right to free speech but if you upset people you might have a punch travelling towards your face. But the Pope’s intervention is only one amongst many. In the wake of the recent terrorist outrages in Paris, and the massive responses to it globally, a debate has erupted about the nature of free speech and its appropriate boundaries. It is an intense and global debate, but, as often happens when human emotions are all aquiver, there has been more heat than light. In what follows, I will make an effort to untangle the issues before tackling the question I posed in the heading.

And in doing so, I am going to take two views of free speech. The first is what I call the internal view: free speech considered within the boundaries of specific countries and legal systems. The second is what I call the global view: free speech within the emerging global public sphere.  I begin with the internal view.

Weekly Wire: the Global Forum

Kalliope Kokolis's picture

These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.

One
The African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance – you better take it seriously!

“In three weeks, the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance will enter into force. The Charter was adopted by the African Union (AU) five years ago. Now that fifteen member states have ratified it, the Charter becomes legally binding and operational. Guinea-Bissau, Nigeria and Cameroon were the 13th, 14thand 15th countries to ratify the Charter. Why should we bother about this document? A Charter that was ratified in majority by countries that don’t lead by example in terms of good governance; a Charter that might be just another paper tiger without any teeths; one of a range of legal documents that don’t change anything about the real lives of African citizens?

Not quite.

The African Charter actually doesn’t contain many new elements. But, much more important, it summarizes and reconfirms existing African engagements on good governance that the continent’s leaders have taken over the last thirty years or so. And the Charter takes them a step further, in operationalizing their implementation. So instead of adding to the pile, it tries to rationalize the African good governance architecture and improve its translation into reality.” READ MORE

The Back-Handed Compliment

Sina Odugbemi's picture

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), 37 journalists have been killed so far in 2010, killed by those who want to silence them. 838 have been killed since 1992. The media are being hounded by authoritarian regimes in many countries still, including some of the most prominent countries in the world today.  And as my colleague, Tony Lambino, pointed out only last week, even the internet - once hoped to be the ultimate domain of free speech - is increasingly being mastered by illiberal regimes. They are finding the technological means to muzzle free speech even here. Some are employing thousands of police men and women dedicated to the task.

Speech and “Harmony” in China: An Experiment

Tom Jacobson's picture

In his book “When China Rules the World: The End of the Western World and the Birth of a new Global Order,” Martin Jacques argues that China is not only ascendant economically. It is also on a path to marginalize the West and change global conceptions of what is modernity. Does this include modern communication?

In mid-December I visited Wuhan, China, in Hubei Province where Wuhan University’s School of Journalism and Mass Media held a conference on Intercultural Communication and Journalism Ethics, attended by perhaps one hundred scholars mostly from China or greater China. I made a presentation there on the relevance of Habermas’s treatment of modernity for the analysis of Chinese culture. And then traveled to Chengdu, Sichuan Province, to deliver a lecture on comparative forms of political legitimacy and the role of communication in relation to each, at the Department of Literature and Journalism in Sichuan University.