Free speech — holiday reading

It’s common to hear the cry “but it’s a free country, isn’t it” in the pub when somebody has said something objectionable to others. Years ago the refrain would be ” It isn’t 1984 yet, you know”.

And the first freedom is surely freedom of speech. Without it we can’t converse, we can’t debate, we can’t disagree, let alone know if we agree.

“The First Freedom: A History of Free Speech” by Robert Hargreaves published by Sutton Publishing is part of my holiday reading. And well worth the effort.

If you draw a graph of more or less freedom of expression along a time line, it would be taking a dip today in the UK.

England has some reputation for free speech, indeed often prides itself as being free. That notion came about because England was one of the first countries before the mid 19th entury to do away with censorship of printed material before publication.

We still have restraints post to publication:

Libel
Restrictions on naming accusers, and defendents under age
Race and religious restrictions
Regulatory restrictions by quangos

And more.

Hargreaves shows clearly the right to the first freedom does not come natrually. It has to be constantly defended against those trying to impose restrictions, often for the best motives.

Read it and admire what the defenders did, in all of our names.

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