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Restricting Speech


A journalist whose writings were considered to be against the Islamic Revolution has been executed in Iran. A media mogul, who is the last to hold an independent point of view in Hong Kong, has been arrested by the Chinese authorities and could face imprisonment for life. These are events that took place on just one day, but reflect the threat the media faces around the world in many ways every day of the year. It is not that journalists face any kind of special immunity but, at least, in the democratic countries, they have protections under the law from government authority and can approach the courts for redress. Someone like Arnab Goswami can give as good as he gets as he is targeted by the Maharashtra Government. (The CEO of his television news channel was arrested on Sunday in the ‘fake TV ratings scam’.)

Unfortunately, even in democratic countries, the protection enjoyed by media is coloured by political considerations. The recent presidential election in the US, for instance, was severely impacted by the polarisation of the media, with each faction openly shaping the news and attacking the credibility of the other in the attempt to further its point of view. The supporters of political parties were encouraged to boycott and even harm ‘unfriendly’ journalists.

All this is apart from the dangers journalists face from criminals, vested interests, corrupt officials, extremist groups, etc. News that is factual and presented in the proper context has been largely overtaken by social media posts that can be irresponsible and downright incendiary. It has become increasingly difficult to separate truth from fiction in a convincing enough manner; as a result, the phenomenon of ‘fake news’ is increasing by leaps and bounds.

The exercise of free speech by the citizen or the media person faces much opposition from all kinds of power centres. This is despite the fact that without free speech, it is absolutely impossible to evolve as human beings. It is the duty, therefore of the law and society to push for greater freedom, instead of restriction. It may come at a price and often prove offensive to one’s beliefs, but it is far preferable to the closed societies that many ideologies around the world would wish to create.