Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Freedom of Expression

“There is considerable force in the argument that the struggle for an independent press, capable of reporting and commenting on events with a minimum of state interference and control, played a key role in the development of the modern constitutional state. …They saw the free expression of opinion through the organs of an independent press as a vital safeguard against the despotic use of state power….Statutory guarantees of freedom of expression were eventually adopted by various European governments so that by the end of the nineteenth century the freedom of the press had become a constitutional feature of many Western states.” –The Trade in the News by John B. Thompson P118

After reading this, I felt more upset about what I heard recently: Regulations on reporting activities in China by foreign journalists during the Beijing Olympic Games and the preparatory period will be in force from the January, 1st to October 17th 2008. According to this regulation, police are forbidden to prevent foreign journalists from interviewing.

It is no wonder that the Chinese government is trying to forge and present an atmosphere of freedom of speech to the world. But what about the situation before and after the Olympics? The answer is self-evident.

It is not news that China exerts strict censorship in publication. Censorship itself is not wrong and it is necessary to each state and government. When censorship interfere the freedom of speech, which comprises a vital part of human rights, it will only become a block or even an evil consequence to the pursuit of a democratic society.

According to John B. Thompson, in the 18th century, England, America, France and some other western countries had incorporated the right of freedom of expression in the constitution. This progress played a significant role in the development of democracy of most Western countries. In China, the freedom of expression is protected by the constitution, too. In reality, it is somehow distorted.

It is not rigorous by simply comparing the situation of Western countries with China. The problem of the right of freedom expression and censorship involves a lot of factors, including regime and the situation of a country. Different regimes or under different developing levels might carry out different regulations on freedom expression and censorship. However, if a state emphasizes on the differences while avoids solving this problem, it is just an excuse of absolutism.

Only if the right of freedom expression is virtually possessed by people at all walks, there are ways to disclose and cure the corrupt social issues; the majority of grass-roots class enjoys the fruit of the prosperity of the country; and the image of the country gets changed internationally.


At 10:35 PM, Blogger A. Mattson said...

Another great post and choice of quotation.

Thompson is correct: A free press is the watchdog of the state and it is necessary for a democratic society. The inclusion of press freedom in Western constitutions was a major advance.

Your comparison to the current situtation in China is appropriate. The current crackdown on dissent because of the Olympics is troubling. Western nations that have constitutional protections of the press do not always observe them either (including the U.S. recently.)

Hopefully China is still heading toward greater freedom of the press, but it will be a long slow process, unless there is a major upheaval which seems unlikely.


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