Free Speech Discussion

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Freedom of speech is something everyone is entitled to it. Whether you are poor or rich, male or female, historical or young, individuals have varied opinions, and it is their proper to express them freely. Everyone has the right to specific an individual opinion without the worry of the society or the government. However, today, the meaning of freedom of speech has drastically modified as people continue to misuse it in an insupportable society. The way people expresses individual thoughts has also changed, and this is seen extra on Social Media where people act like they are in a livid debate they should desperately win. This kind of debates unfold nothing but hate, racism, hostility, and abhorrence among others. Free Speech is a topic discussed widely over the years and its development from the medieval times to the contemporary time shows it is something that did not come easily, both the state and individuals have a responsibility to ensure free speech is guaranteed and not misused.

Free speech discussion has always elicited a lot of public reactions since its constitutional recognition in the eighteen century. As an example, recently, the University of California, Berkeley, was at the center of the discussion over Free speech happenings on its campuses (Desai 1). A few views collected from the students show various understanding of free speech. Some students believe free speech should be limited because most speakers use it to “shout fire” while some think limiting free speech is a violation of human rights. Often violence is seen on American campuses where students shout to silence or prevent speakers of controversial topics from addressing the students. The problem is not just on college campuses, even in the public people have become so much intolerable that speakers who speak against what the people are against are heckled down. People no longer believe in the original intent of free speech, and today the freedom is only limited to “when you agree with us.” Individuals are no longer free to speak their opinions, and in some areas, you are not allowed to discuss certain topics that are likely to elicit public reactions. The once free speech is no longer free in some areas. The views expressed by Berkeley students indicates the need to revisit the issue of free speech and reverse the tides in line with the First Amendment.

McChesney (227) observes that a country like America has a unique history of freedom of expression. The founding fathers held two simultaneous understanding of freedom, especially that of the press. First, it is the responsibility of the government not to interfere or censor the press or the right of someone to launch news medium. Second, the first responsibility of the American government is to guarantee the existence of a free press system. McChesney contends that to the founding fathers and the generation that followed, the two were complimentary and not contradictory as seen today. And the initial crusaders, on both fronts, were James Madison and Jefferson (McChesney227). Today, however, although America brags as a place where individuals enjoy the freedom of expression and free speech in full measures, undoubtedly, the country is departing slowly from the path set by the founding fathers. Media censorship is slowly creeping in, and this is seen in the way the executive attacks the press for being biased. The media is not allowed to broadcast certain messages unless censored by the government. The unfortunate events on college campuses are a representation of the society at large, and it is not just the people who are becoming intolerable, the government is slowly losing tolerance. There is too much intolerance in the country and what is happening on college campuses is one of the many explosions to come if the situation remains unchecked.

Hammer and Douglas (76) discusses the importance of public sphere as the link between the people and the state, and agree that the existence of the public sphere is something that never came easily. They note that the perception of public opinion and sphere first came into discussion during the eighteen century at the time when America was getting independence. Initially, there were no public spheres and individuals were not allowed to criticize the monarchies. Free speech was limited, and people feared to express themselves because of the repercussions. The authors highlight that history records no evidence of the European society having a public sphere; the opinion of the royal family represented the public. Individuals behaved as if they were in the forces; they were to obey everything without questioning even when they had a different opinion, and those who went against the wishes of the ruling family received severe punishment. Durham and Douglas (76) demonstrate that the development of free speech from the past to present was a long tedious and painful journey and people should not sit and watch as individuals engage in reverse gear, as witnessed on college campuses. The public sphere is important, and individuals have a right to express their opinions on issues affecting the society as long as it does not amount to incitement.

However, lack of censorship in the media sometimes can lead to a lot of misleading information. Bratich (109) observe that in the first week after 9/11 attack, there were a lot of conspiracy theories and swirling rumors regarding the attack. The mainstream media spread official rumors while at the same time attacking popular rumors. The internet was specifically cited as the number spreader of inaccurate information regarding the attack. It was an example of how dangerous lack of censorship can sometimes turn out to be. Bratich (120) notes that the development of the internet turned out not as a breakthrough to the mainstream media but a destructive force. There are a lot of fake news out there, and this is attributed to the freedom of expressions individuals have. Individuals have the freedom to manufacture information and share it as the truth. Were it not for the development of free society; this would not be happening. Bratich adds that the value of freedom attached to the internet is under freedom of the press in a liberal society, and this is the reason why limiting information on the internet falls under media censorship.

Conclusively, the development of free speech has a long history, and the recent debates on free speech perhaps indicate that the development is ongoing. The value of free speech in the modern society is immense, and therefore, it is not just the responsibility of the government to ensure there is free speech, individuals also have a role to play. However, misuse of free speech under the banner of self-expression is wrong, and this creates the need for encouraging responsible use of free speech.

Works Cited

Bratich, Jack Zeljko. “Trust No One (On the Internet) The CIA-Crack-Contra Conspiracy Theory and Professional Journalism.” Television & New Media 5.2 (2004): 109-139.

Desai, Reyna. “Berkeley Students Speak Out About Free Speech.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 22 Sept. 2017, www.nytimes.com/2017/09/22/us/berkeley-free-speech.html

Hammer, Rhonda, and Douglas Kellner, eds. Media/cultural studies: Critical approaches. Peter Lang, 2009.

McChesney, Robert. “Rejuvenating American Journalism: Some Tentative Policy Proposals Workshop Presentation on Journalism, Federal Trade Commission Washington, DC, and March 10, 2010.” Perspectives on Global Development and Technology 10.1 (2011): 224-237.

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