Molotov cocktails and bricks are flying at former bastions of free speech like UC Berkeley. Conservatives are right that these violent protests from college liberals are an attack on free expression, but it’s more than just “whiny snowflakes” on campus who endanger this fundamental right. While these foolish protests over controversial speakers like Ann Coulter and Milo Yiannopoulos pose a threat to free speech, it’s still the government that puts it in the most peril.
Reporters Without Borders recently released its 2017 World Press Freedom Index, in which it ranks 180 countries on a variety of free speech issues such as surveillance, censorship, and crackdowns on espionage and whistleblowers. The United States fell two spots this year to 43rd in the world.
Students’ free speech rights are constantly suppressed across American college campuses. Recently, a student sued Los Angeles Pierce College after he was prohibited from passing out pocket constitutions outside the college’s “free speech zone”, which confines speech activities to a small outdoor area.
Harvard is no exception; it has speech codes that clearly infringe upon students’ First Amendment rights. One example is Harvard’s racial harassment policy, which bars students from “using racial epithets, making racially derogatory remarks, and using racial stereotypes.” The wording used in this speech code is far too vague and therefore threatensstudents’ free speech rights.
The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution states, “Congress shall make no law […] abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.” Harvard is a private institution and is not legally bound by the First Amendment. However, Harvard is considered to be an institution that encourages America’s best and brightest to pursue truth. In order to do so effectively, Harvard must foster diversity in intellectual thought and therefore respect students’ right to free speech, regardless of how different and controversial it may be.
However, Harvard was given a “red light” categorization by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education for having at least one policy that obstructs freedom of speech. FIRE is a non-profit organization that “defends and sustains individual rights at America’s colleges and universities.” Harvard’s “red light” policy defines racial harassment “as actions on the part of an individual or group that demean or abuse another individual or group because of racial or ethnic background. Such actions may include, but are not restricted to, using racial epithets, making racially derogatory remarks, and using racial stereotypes.” We must keep in mind that what is offensive to one person may not be offensive to another.
On New Year’s Day, China Central Television (CCTV) unveiled its newest “soft power” entertainment media venture, whose purpose is to extend China’s global media influence. Chinese President Xi Jinping said that the overriding directive of this new collection of television stations and news agencies will be to “follow the party line and promote ‘positive propaganda as the main theme.’”
The CCTV announcement compounds the growing risk that increased Chinese investment will entice Hollywood into volunteering itself as a propaganda division of the Communist Party of China (CPC). And if these trends continue, the Western world’s outlet for Chinese dissenters will be closed.
China’s film industry has in recent years grown approximately 34% annually and generated $6.8 billion in 2015. While many applaud the very modest political reforms that sometimes complement China’s market liberalization, one should be wary of the country’s iron grip on its entertainment industry.
China’s industry players are inextricably bound to the CPC, as evidenced by the ascent of Wang Jianlin, China’s richest man. Jianlin’s successes are a product of quid pro quo arrangements between himself and the CPC’s top officials. Further, Jianlin is a delegate to the CPC congress and was a high-level advisor in China’s faux legislature from 2008 to 2013. Today, CPC delegate Jianlin can count several American awards shows, including the Golden Globes, the Billboard and American Music Awards, and even AMC Theaters as part of his recently accrued collection.
Today’s Young Voices Podcast features Young Voices Executive Director Casey Given and YV Advocate Dan Kingon the state of free speech in France since the attack on Charlie Hebdo in 2015 and the future of free speech in America under Donald Trump’s presidency.
Saturday, January 7, marked two years since armed Islamic terrorists stormed the offices of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and killed 11 people following the magazine’s feature of a drawing of the prophet Mohammed. Yet while the French people briefly rallied around the magazine with the slogan “Je Suis Charlie,” free speech remains under assault due to French hate speech laws.
In the aftermath of the attack, the PEN American Center, one of the world’s foremost free speech advocates, decided to award the French magazine its annual Freedom of Expression Courage Award. However, dozens of writers who were supposed to attend the gala withdrew, stating that they felt Charlie Hebdo promoted “cultural intolerance.”
That line of thinking is ever-growing and dangerous, and it is strengthened by systemic failings in France that allow such attacks to take place. France’s laws regarding hate speech, namely Section 24 of the Press Law of 1881 on preventing speech that “incites discrimination hatred, or violence on the basis of one’s origin or membership (or non-membership) in an ethnic, national, racial, or religious group,” are incredibly restrictive and essentially embolden and justify the attackers.