There IS something outrageous about stamping out dissenting speech

A recent article, by Osita Nwanevu, published in Slate magazine, makes the, superficially, appealing claim that we should stamp out bigoted speech. However, in doing so, he makes a number of logical fallacies and sets up poor standards which we should hope to not find in widespread use.

Before we start, I will say that I am very much on the free speech side of things. I strongly believe free speech is the most important human right there is and that there can be as, without the ability to freely discuss and debate ideas, we can not even begin to entertain the notion of any other human right. The very existence of a right to life or freedom from discrimination is dependent upon one being able to express those thoughts in the first place. Continue reading

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If not free speech then what?

Free speech is absolutely vital for the sort of society in which I wish to live. I want a society where ideas can be freely exchanged, where they are judged on their merits alone and not on who supports or derides them. If we do not have freedom of speech then there can not even be debate on any other issue. This is something I’ve tried to defend throughout the history of this blog, whether it was calling out France for outlawing opinions, the UK for arresting people for harmlessly expressing their views or just arguing against offence being something we should be protected from. Now I need to do it again. Continue reading

That’s offensive! So what?

There seem to have been a number of incidents recently where one person has said something that others took offence to which have made it into the news. Some of these cases involve people expressing their opinion but most concern inappropriate jokes. I have some concerns that, given the ability of social media to find things to take offence to and the amount of pressure that can be levied with it, we are heading towards a dangerous situation where it will be safe only to voice the most popular opinions or tell the most politically correct jokes.

At times, the apparent need to get offended gets justified in the most ridiculous ways, as shown here in South Africa. I would encourage everyone to read the Broacasting Complaints Commission of South Africa’s (BCCSA) findings with regards to “jou ma se paw paw” that was said on Heart 104.9FM. A complaint was made after a DJ said “jou ma se paw paw,” which translates to “your mother’s paw paw.” Fairly inoffensive. The problem is that “jou ma se poes,” which translates to “your mother’s cunt” is a common insult. The complainant said that by using something similar it is an attack on women’s dignity and encourages sexism.

Against all common sense the complaint was upheld! Although the BCCSA only reprimanded the broadcaster and found the words did not amount to advocacy of hatred, they , somehow, concluded that:

The words “Jou ma se paw-paw” are grossly offensive within the South African context. They strongly remind of the seriously derogatory original phrase, which need not be repeated here. The words are also, within the same context of children, harmful to children in terms of clause 6(1)

Continue reading

Western laws constricting free speech

There is one aspect of the US that I particularly admire and that is their protection of free speech due to the First Amendment:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Unfortunately that protection is not always available to people in other Western countries, with the UK having a number of high-profile incidents where citizens have been arrested for things that they’ve said. Continue reading

Updates: Aan and Nando’s

There’s not too much new about the Alexander Aan case but there are a few things I missed when I originally wrote about his sentencing. There seems to be some disagreement with what he wrote. I originally read, and quoted, “God doesn’t exist” but now I’m seeing “God does not exist.” Of course that’s not really that big of a difference and it’s probably not even worth worrying about since he probably posted in Indonesian and not English. A little more serious was that I missed part of his sentence. Not only was Aan sentenced to 2,5 years in jail but also fined Rp100 million (about US$10 600). This article has some information on the groups that are supporting him.

Back in South Africa, there has been positive news regarding Nando’s anti-xenophobia advert. If you remember it was banned by the SABC, DStv and e.tv and M-Net for supposedly having a xenophobic undertone and in case people misunderstood it. This week, TopTV announced that it would show the ad on a number of it’s channels. One of the positive knock-on effects of that decision is that DStv has now lifted it’s own ban on the advert. Hopefully the other channels will soon follow suit.

UPDATE: Not worth making a new post for this but Nando’s has said it’s no longer interested in showing it’s ad on DStv.

To be unAfrican seems to me a compliment

When I wrote about The Spear yesterday I said that some people described the painting as “an attack to the very value and moral systems of the majority African people.” I said such criticisms were needed to make sure that we are able to progress in our ethics but now, as more reactions to the painting have come to light, I feel that perhaps that attack on the moral systems of the majority is actually a compliment. Continue reading

The Spear, a test for South Africa’s free expression

The Spear by Brett Murray

There has been a lot of talk about Brett Murray’s depiction of President Jacob Zuma in the picture, The Spear, which already has it’s own Wikipedia entry. Everyone has their opinion on the picture, which was sold for R136 000, and whether it is a legitimate example of freedom of expression or whether it should be removed and destroyed. I want to look at it in light of the 10 principles of free speech I talked about earlier.

While the display of the picture has been defended by City Press and the Goodman Gallery on the grounds of freedom of expression it has been opposed by supporters of Zuman and the ANC by multiple, and often ridiculous, arguments. Continue reading