Monday, October 10, 2005


This article by Egyptian weekly Al-Ahram brings to the fore a question that must puzzle many an intellectual – where should a journalist draw the line when writing or exposing information for public review? The article mentions Spain’s sentencing of Taysir Allouni, an Al-Jazeera reporter, to seven years in prison for alleged links with the Al-Qaeda. Allouni interviewed Osama bin Laden a few weeks after 9/11, and the prosecution apparently used excerpts from this interview as evidence against him, a point that has been brought up by Reporters Without Borders, a non-profit working for the rights of reporters worldwide. They argue that if terrorism was what he was sentenced for, then his interview (which was a professional engagement more than anything else), should not have been brought up in court.

"It is inherent in the nature of the work of any professional journalist to meet and extract information from players on all sides of the political spectrum," head of the London-based Arab Press Freedom Watch organisation Ibrahim Nawwar told Al-Ahram Weekly. "In the case of Allouni, he cast doubt on his intentions by meeting Al-Qaeda heads."

Extending this argument to you and me, suppose I were to be vocal about my opinions on America, which are probably not to the liking of the current government there. If someone were to read something I wrote about my ideas, would I be liable for prosecution? Probably, in a fettered society. And yet student protesters even 10 days ago were killed in Meghalaya for making their voice known. Does that make our 21st century society a fettered one inspite of the onslaught of media reports and systems that we have access to that were not available decades ago?

What happens to freedom of speech then?

This of course throws up a host of related questions: does anyone have the right to censor someone’s expressions or voice or, because it is not in keeping with one’s personal beliefs or views, persecute them? Reminds me of an episode of The Big Fight I saw on NDTV once, where people were debating the right of the Censor Board to decree what people can and cannot watch. My 20-year-old cousin was a member of the audience and I recall her answering Barkha Dutt’s question and opining that she did not think the Censor Board had the right to question the intelligence of the public, to discern what was right or wrong for them. That choice should be left to them.

Likewise for us. I think we all have the right to write about our actions as long as we can stand by them and they do not harm anyone.

As an educated individual, that is what I believe. The battle is on and my ramparts are officially manned. Counter, you fanatics out there!


One Who Nets The Dot said...

Society needs censor-ship because we are not ready for the kind of freedom you are talking about. We do not want to step into chaos.
History tells us that the so called 'intelligence of the public' likes to be/can be (mis)led. We need policing through a collective achieved through democracy. Even though you talk about freedom of speech, your arrogance of being educated and prejudice shows in your statement :'I think we all have the right to write about our actions as long as we can stand by them and they do not harm anyone.
Why do you link to a chinese news site? Do you know if the chinese consider Meghalaya as a part of India? What if you are a pawn in somebody's propaganda board!

However, If you are a conscious pawn and have a forceful voice, you could always prove that you are right.

Sharad said...

Talking of freedom of speech, this really strange thing happened here a few weeks back, not sure if you know.

Labour Party Conference was going on, and when Jack Straw was talking about Iraq, this 82 year old guy in the audience , veteran labour party member, said 'Nonsense'. And then these bouncer-like security guards came and threw him out. Literally, manhandled and all.

Sure enough, next days papers tore apart Blair and co. 'Freedom of Speech in Blair's Britain' they called it.

wanderstruck said...

One Who Nets The Dot: I believe in freedom of speech with the caveat that no one should be harmed. If I harm no one, then why should I not be allowed to talk? Also, I do not necessarily say that educated people are wiser than those not. There are cases where the opposite happens. In my case, I believe that my knowledge (whether achieved through the system popularly called education, or not) is enough to make me understand the distinction between right and wrong. I will not knowingly hurt others because of this knowledge. So who has the right to stop me from talking? BTW, freedom of speech and expression is a fundamental right in DEMOCRATIC INDIA.

I link to a chinese news site, because wonder of wonders when I searched for a relevant link to support what I wanted to explain, none of the Indian news sites had a chronicled article on the incident in meghalaya. But I would have put an American site for all I care, if they had mentioned it. NYT is a US site, is it not? And continuing from my previous point, I am not a pawn, conscious or unconscious. I believe I have enough sense to know when I am becoming a pawn and refuse to participate!

Sharad: Well, there you go! Thank God for open media channels - newspapers or TV or whatever!