Roosevelt’s First Freedom

Since Monday onwards my Journalism class has started a weblog in cooperation with the local newspaper the PZC about Freedom of Speech. The blog is called Roosevelt’s First Freedom. Check it out!

I wrote Monday’s opening blog:

Freedom of Speech: A Blurry Concept

We all talk about it, most of us want it, but none of us can actually clearly define it: Freedom of Speech.

With the Four Freedom Awards coming up in Middelburg, this weblog will be continuously covering topics centring on Freedom of Speech. Several aspects and contexts will be examined, including art, foreign policies and the actual practicability of Freedom of Speech. However, before going into these specified directions, let us first determine: What is Freedom of Speech?

Last Saturday I went around Middelburg to ask several people about their associations and definitions of Freedom of Speech. Even though I don’t claim any statistically reliable or random sampling, I tried to approach people from different generations to get a broad and clear view of how the people in Middelburg see the complicated concept of Freedom of Speech.

Everyone’s first response is basically that it is important and that you should be able to say whatever you want. Some reactions include that “Freedom of Speech is important because otherwise we would have an overregulated society” and “You should let people live freely.”

However, many immediately add that there are boundaries. And this is where things start getting fussy. Where lays this boundary exactly? What part of the line would we pinpoint to be the border between allowed, even encouraged, and unacceptable? The most common answer is that it ends when you start offending or unreasonably embarrassing other people. You should be able to disagree and discuss things, but definitely not offend. But who decides what is offensive and what is not?

Another interviewee states that this boundary of crossing to offensiveness is intuitively and another argued that everyone has to determine this boundary for themselves. But then, living together in a society with other people, this subjective description of the boundary is asking for troubles, isn’t it?

Several people identified this boundary to be very unclear and were of the opinion that it should be made clearer.

Two of the interviewees expressed that a problematic issue of the boundary is that it is nowadays a lot lower than it was in the past. The boundary shifts. They claimed that “today people can take a lot less, are a lot less tolerant and judge more.”

A rather conservative opinion exclaimed that freedom of speech should solely be about the allowance of having your own opinion, but furthermore “you are not allowed to criticize and should not throw everything in the public sphere”, making even more limits on what we can say.

Now, after the definition has become admittedly even more confusing, instead of clearer, let’s see what the coming weeks of blogging is going to bring us!


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