Muse n' Motivation

The Thinking Blog!

How free is Freedom of Expression?

Freedom of expression comes with our democratic rights. We appreciate what we like and criticize what we disapprove of. In the same way, artists, writers, actors and the like express themselves and their thoughts in their work be it by paintings, books or acting. There are several other mediums of expression that we make use of as individuals in a free independent country, giving each other space and making use of our democratic rights too. But pray, when does this act of artistic freedom become an infringement on the sensibilities of certain sections of society? Why does it become so? If expressing one’s freedom of speech or artistic expression becomes a provocation for violence and disharmony should the person expressing himself/herself be treated like a terrorist and be shunted out unceremoniously? Does expression of speech come with its share of responsibility?

Live and Let Live

We heard of reports in all kinds of media of the reputed artist, M F Husain’s decision to give up Indian citizenship and take up citizenship in Qatar. This because he and his work were not guaranteed freedom of expression as is evident in all the events from the time his controversial painting of the nude goddess took place. His paintings were destroyed, his house vandalized and cases piled up against him for disrupting harmony in the country, causing insult to another religion and inciting violence among the people.

In the same manner, Salman Rushdie’s books were banned and a fatwa put on him that turned him into a complete recluse trying to save himself from the people trying to kill him.

Taslima Nasreen, also a writer is wandering from country to country only because she dared to write what others didn’t especially in her country. 

There are innumerable other people who have suffered, have been traumatized and are still suffering for expressing their deserving right of freedom of expression. So, where did they go wrong for producing so much hatred and dislike for them and their works? Is it only a section of the society that is getting extra sensitive by this freedom of expression or are there other sections of society too that are genuinely affected by ‘irresponsible’ freedom of expression.

Those disturbed by the acts of these artists, writers, actors, etc state that since what these people do or say is liable to influence others because of the wide reach of the work, their actions must be judged critically.  They also say that no freedom comes without responsibility.

Creative people, they state, have a social and moral responsibility towards their work and should be held responsible for their work which means that they should not say or do anything in speech, action or work that could fan the embers of violence in a country which is home to so many diverse religions.

But what about the attempts to strangulate the voices of those who are not even attempting to do or say anything wrong? And here, the fault lies in the voices that are trying to shut them up. Like the moral brigade that does not want Valentine’s Day, like some governments in India that want a total ban on western music, like those who want a movie to be banned and indulge in violence only because the actor spoke about something that they don’t agree with.

What about the blogger, who was forced to express an apology and take off his blog that criticized a reputed television news reporter and presenter’s coverage and commentary of 26/11?  What about the political parties that incite violence in the public on a regular basis by presenting wrong facts to them and then provoking them to indulge in violence? Why are they not held up then?

Today, more than ever, people have become aware (thanks to the internet) and are expressing themselves left, right and centre about issues that were earlier left to political parties and the like. People today want to participate in the social process and development of the country and so, express themselves in whatever forms they deem right. I am not saying that all are right. Some of them can be mighty destructive and scathing too in their manner of expression but they are only expressing their freedom of expression. Why deprive a person of his/her creative license only because it appears negative? In fact, a court hearing in Mumbai ruled sometime back that all religions in India can be criticized as it is the approved fundamental right to freedom of speech. Of course, the issue is not just about the criticism of religions. It is about being comfortable and being free to express one’s thoughts unmindful of a possibly dangerous consequence like a ban, attempt to murder, etc. Like someone said, “Assuming he is wrong, he has a right to be wrong.”

You tell me friends. Does freedom of speech and expression comes with a no holds card? Or does it require a certain degree of responsibility with it? Who has the right to judge how much is too much!

This post has been selected for this week’s Spicy Saturday Pick.


32 Comments

  1. As an artist i would hate for my work to be censored.
    I believe a middle ground between the the two principles should be the answer.
    Any writer or artist can publish what they want, but if it likely to offend it should have a warning before the person gets to it.

  2. Hi Richard,

    So nice of you to comment.Yes, I agree. What we need is a middle path, nothing too aggressive but media with a sense of responsibility so that duty is carried out, reaches the public and public sentiments are not hurt.

    Thanks.

  3. Sneha

    Hello Shail,

    I’d say that everything comes with a sense of responsibility…atleast it should. If one has some rights, there are certain responsibilities too. Especially in sensitive cases of hurting the emotions of a particular sect or creed.
    We’re complex neuron beings with different; sometimes complex ideas.
    Thanks for raising this issue in your blog.

    By the way, you’re interview was too good.

    Love
    Sneha

  4. Nice …. I think common sense and social mores decide how much is too much

  5. As long as all parties are free and have level playing field to respond, I think it is only fair that one has 100% freedom to express.

    History tells us that expressing simple fact that earth is round can offend and attract dire consequences.

    After all all opinions expressed are just a point of view. Things may look different when viewed from other points. Who can claim to have a whole picture?

    What is required is more understanding and tolerance.

    I pray God for that. For HE only has the whole picture.

  6. Thanks Shail for this thought provoking post. I am against any form of censorship. It curbs freedom of express and will be definitely misused by the powers that be to serve their own interests.

  7. chris verschooten

    Dear Shail,

    I would like to raise another issue in this regard. What about those people whose voices are hardly heard in the mainstream media, who can’t even use their right to freedom of expression because mainstream media simply isn’t interested, as they (the media) are vassals of commercial interest? Our Brussels Center for Journalism Studies organised a round table on Poverty and Critical Journalism (take a look at http://www.criticaljournalism.be – we will update the site this week), with the very highly appreciated participation of P. Sainath, whom you must no doubt know. I think India should be very proud to have an investigative journalist like him. He talked about the failure of the media to act as the fourth estate. Is this a role mainstream media is still willing to play anyway? If you have any reflection on this, Shail, gladly!
    Kindly,
    Chris

  8. thanks shail for raising a very deep rooted issue, many get away with freedom of expression and its misuse ends up us being subjected to n amount of sleaze on television and otherwise ….. An intelligent audience to judge how much is to much,unfortunately we are an audience who accepts WYSIWYG very blatantly and blindly without any questions …… it would take a lot of time for our society to mature and hence such anachronism will continue.

  9. Indrani Talukdar

    I agree with Chris. Some issues aren’t seen as ‘exciting’ enough for the press. Media coverage needs to be carried out with a sense of responsibility. I too, can think of many instances where the media went berserk including Barkha Dutt’s reporatge of 26/11.

  10. Sneha :
    Hello Shail,
    I’d say that everything comes with a sense of responsibility…atleast it should. If one has some rights, there are certain responsibilities too. Especially in sensitive cases of hurting the emotions of a particular sect or creed.
    We’re complex neuron beings with different; sometimes complex ideas.
    Thanks for raising this issue in your blog.
    Hi Sneha,

    I agree. Media comes with responsibility. Unfortunately, we have too much of yellow journalism and the media (many amongst them) think that they are the ones who can run a country, bring a ministry down and scandalize someone else. I don’t deny their importance but it is when they go haywire, which is becoming often now, that matters get from bad to worse.
    By the way, you’re interview was too good.
    Love
    Sneha

  11. Phoenixritu :
    Nice …. I think common sense and social mores decide how much is too much

    Hi Monika,

    Thanks for the comment. Yes, common sense matters. But when things go too much out of hand with the media thinking they have no limits, that’s when they lose their common sense and let go off the social mores.

  12. Harshad :

    As long as all parties are free and have level playing field to respond, I think it is only fair that one has 100% freedom to express.

    History tells us that expressing simple fact that earth is round can offend and attract dire consequences.

    After all all opinions expressed are just a point of view. Things may look different when viewed from other points. Who can claim to have a whole picture?

    What is required is more understanding and tolerance.

    I pray God for that. For HE only has the whole picture.

    Hello Harshad,

    Very well put. Yes, nobody can claim to have the complete picture or that their view point only is the best and the most right one. We need tolerance from all sides especially from the media. That will more or less balance the situation.

    Thanks for your valuable comments.

  13. A.Hari :

    Thanks Shail for this thought provoking post. I am against any form of censorship. It curbs freedom of express and will be definitely misused by the powers that be to serve their own interests.

    Hello Hari,
    Glad you liked the article. Yes, censorship does paralyze movement and thought. But then, shouldn’t the media realize they are not God? They need to be more tolerant as Harshad mentioned and also know when to strike. I usually watch Barkha Dutt’s programes, I do so today too but was very saddened and shocked when I came to know that she made an ordinary blogger to take off his work only because it was critical of her work. If one media is not tolerant of another media itself, it speaks a lot of its tolerance level of society…
    Don’t you think?

  14. chris verschooten :

    Dear Shail,

    I would like to raise another issue in this regard. What about those people whose voices are hardly heard in the mainstream media, who can’t even use their right to freedom of expression because mainstream media simply isn’t interested, as they (the media) are vassals of commercial interest? Our Brussels Center for Journalism Studies organised a round table on Poverty and Critical Journalism (take a look at http://www.criticaljournalism.be – we will update the site this week), with the very highly appreciated participation of P. Sainath, whom you must no doubt know. I think India should be very proud to have an investigative journalist like him. He talked about the failure of the media to act as the fourth estate. Is this a role mainstream media is still willing to play anyway? If you have any reflection on this, Shail, gladly!
    Kindly,
    Chris

    Dear Chris,

    Firstly, it gives me great pleasure to see you here. And double pleasure that you have expressed your views in detail. Thanks!
    Coming to the matter of media,yes, as you rightly pointed out, there are thousands of people who do not have the right to even express their views. Their lot is the most tortured one mainly because some of them do not even know that they have such rights. The media, the urban public, the government sees to it that they are kept away from the main source of information. No wonder, the poor and abused get poorer and abused more and more.

    The media of today is more interested in yellow journalism, in sensation, for-the -moment kind of news, unmindful of the consequences. The media has definitely forgotten its main role and that is indeed a great pity. People like Sainath are few but still exist, quietly doing their work unlike many of the modern day journalists.

    Hope to hear more from you Chris..

  15. aditrupz :

    thanks shail for raising a very deep rooted issue, many get away with freedom of expression and its misuse ends up us being subjected to n amount of sleaze on television and otherwise ….. An intelligent audience to judge how much is to much,unfortunately we are an audience who accepts WYSIWYG very blatantly and blindly without any questions …… it would take a lot of time for our society to mature and hence such anachronism will continue.

    Hi Adi,
    Nice to see you here. Yes, the media and people who are part of it (individuals or groups) express their views irrespective of the fact that they could be causing more harm than benefit. And yes, we the public can go berserk too. No wonder, the media thinks it is God.
    This said, I cannot generalize. There are people who work in the media and have a sense of responsibility too. Unfortunately, they are less and far between.

  16. Indrani Talukdar :

    I agree with Chris. Some issues aren’t seen as ‘exciting’ enough for the press. Media coverage needs to be carried out with a sense of responsibility. I too, can think of many instances where the media went berserk including Barkha Dutt’s reporatge of 26/11.

    Hi Indra,

    Yes, ‘exciting,’ ‘sensation,’ ‘scandal’ are the words that most of today’s media seeks. In the process, the lose out on the main essence of the news. We need more of patience, more of conscience rapping to bring out balanced news.

  17. BALAKRISHNANGANGADHARAN

    I READ YOUR MAIL WORTH READING. LET THE FREEDOM NOT AGAINST NATIONAL INTERST

    • Thank you Mr. Gangadharan for taking out time to read my article and posting your comment.

  18. Devender Kumar

    There is over exposure of certain things, related to our social system. There has to be censorship for Electronic and paper media.

  19. Thank you Devenderji for your comments. When things go out of hand, it seems that censorship is the right thing. But then, we are a democratic country and if we do that we would be no different from other nations who tie up the media.
    The Media must learn to control itself. It must shake up its conscience.

  20. Hello Hari,
    Glad you liked the article. Yes, censorship does paralyze movement and thought. But then, shouldn’t the media realize they are not God? They need to be more tolerant as Harshad mentioned and also know when to strike. I usually watch Barkha Dutt’s programes, I do so today too but was very saddened and shocked when I came to know that she made an ordinary blogger to take off his work only because it was critical of her work. If one media is not tolerant of another media itself, it speaks a lot of its tolerance level of society…
    Don’t you think?

    There is every possibility that such powers of censorship will be misused to silence any ‘inconvenient information’ which will harm the powers that be. Internet is playing a crucial role by providing a platform for expression of such ‘inconvenient truths’ which the print or audio visual media is not prepared to publish /broadcast for ‘obvious’ reasons.

    Hari

  21. Geetashree Chatterjee

    Liberty resides side by side with license. Freedom comes with the danger of encroachment. Hence, the legal and constitutional shields.

    Pen is mightier than sword having incited many blood baths, justified or unjustified, being situational issue. During our Freedom Movement, many writers imbued with the passion for independence had taken to imprinting rebellious thoughts in order to awaken the masses which the Colonial Rulers adjudged as conspiracy against the Crown.

    I remember during the Indira Gandhi regime, a particular movie got banned and later allowed to be shown on theaters after heavy clipping. I wonder whether such heavy handedness would have been acceptable or required had the movie been shot on this day?

    As a writer I would not like my writing to be censored one bit but at the same time it is for the writer in me to see that I do not incur censorship. My right also entails a duty, more so to myself.

    There is perhaps no absolute quantification of what should be written and how much. It is also a fact that the elite oligarchy would always enjoy the prerogative of being the deciding factor. Just because it is a Barkha Dutta writing or putting up a show that does not mean popular critique should be strangulated by crack of a whiplash.

    I think more pertinent and interesting would be to analyse which section of a pluralist society gets oversensitive to a particular artistic expression and how? Are all sections of our society literate and aware enough to form an unbiased opinion and resort to violence after reading a write or seeing a painting ?

    Shouldn’t the reactionary elements also have a moral and legal obligation of establishing their act as not being spurred by prejudice or malice?

  22. Geeta, a great comment. Agree with every part of it. Along with the power of the pen comes responsibility and also the freedom to express come what may.

    Not exactly a cakewalk….

  23. Internet is playing a crucial role by providing a platform for expression of such ‘inconvenient truths’ which the print or audio visual media is not prepared to publish /broadcast for ‘obvious’ reasons.
    Hari

    ——————————————————————————–
    That is why the role of independent bloggers becomes critical in ensuring freedom of expression. Such independent bloggers are forcing the main stream media to report the ‘inconvenient’ issues due to public pressure. We must appreciate work of such bloggers & whistle blowers in helping us to expose several issues which are being ignored by the popular media.

  24. Hi Hari,

    I agree. Bloggers play a great role in bringing to focus issues that might have been conveniently given a miss. But by bloggers I mean responsible bloggers….

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