FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Against Censorship, in Any Media

by SERGE HALIMI

Freedom of speech is something we only really talk about with reference to statements we condemn. Damage done to this principle may last long after the motive and the rulers who exploited it have been forgotten. In the atmosphere of near-panic immediately after 9/11, only one US senator, Russell Feingold, voted against the Patriot Act with its freedom-destroying raft of measures, which were adopted en bloc by Congress on the pretext of combating terrorism. Thirteen years and one president later, these emergency measures are still in force.

We know that ministers of the interior are more concerned with order and security than with freedom. Every new threat encourages them to call for a fresh repressive measure that will attract the support of an anxious or outraged public. In January, France decided to ban meetings and shows judged contrary to “proper respect for human dignity”. Interior minister Manuel Valls, repelled by the anti-Semitic tirades of the controversial comedian Dieudonné (1), whom Valls claimed “is no longer funny” and whose behaviour “has nothing to do with creativity”, warned: “Nothing is ruled out, including stricter laws” (2). But a democratic state should not agree easily to allow the minister in charge of the police to rule ex officio on humour and creativity — even where both are conspicuously absent.

In July 1830 Charles X issued a decree revoking the freedom of the press, and one of his supporters justified the reintroduction of the principle of prior censorship to replace after-the-fact appeals to the courts: “The damage is already done when the law intervenes; far from repairing the damage, punishment merely adds scandal and debate” (3). Ways were found to ignore the decree and next day the newspapers appeared as usual without prior authorisations. The public rushed to read them and discuss the contents. Charles’s reign ended in revolution.

Now rebels, pariahs and reprobates have tens of thousands of subscribers on Twitter; they can hold “meetings” through YouTube sprawled on couches in their living rooms. If we ban shows and public meetings, must we also penalise broadcasting of the same content on social networks? That would turn scandalmongers into victims of “the system”, and justify their most paranoid accusations.

Responding to Valls’s initiatives, a former Socialist minister acknowledged his concerns regarding “a deeply retrograde step, introducing a preventive measure … preemptive moral censorship of free speech.” He concluded, perhaps charitably: “Our best minds have been swayed by emotion, anger and revolt against infamy” (4).

Serge Halimi is president of Le Monde diplomatique.

Notes.

(1) Dieudonné’s touring stage show was banned in January 2014 for fomenting hatred against Jews.

(2) Interview on Aujourd’hui en France, Paris, 28 December 2013.

(3) Quoted by Jean-Noël Jeannenay, Les Grandes Heures de la presse qui ont fait l’histoire,Flammarion, Paris, 2013, p 28.

(4) “Jack Lang sur l’affaire Dieudonné” (Jack Lang on the Dieudonné affair), Le Monde, 13 January 2014.

This article appears in the excellent Le Monde Diplomatique, whose English language edition can be found at mondediplo.com. This full text appears by agreement with Le Monde Diplomatique. CounterPunch features two or three articles from LMD every month.

Serge Halimi is president of Le Monde diplomatique

More articles by:
Weekend Edition
July 29, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Michael Hudson
Obama Said Hillary will Continue His Legacy and Indeed She Will!
Jeffrey St. Clair
She Stoops to Conquer: Notes From the Democratic Convention
Rob Urie
Long Live the Queen of Chaos
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
Evolution of Capitalism, Escalation of Imperialism
Margot Kidder
My Fellow Americans: We Are Fools
Phillip Kim et al.
Open Letter to Bernie Sanders from Former Campaign Staffers
Ralph Nader
Hillary’s Convention Con
Lewis Evans
Executing Children Won’t Save the Tiger or the Rhino
Vijay Prashad
The Iraq War: a Story of Deceit
Chris Odinet
It Wasn’t Just the Baton Rouge Police Who Killed Alton Sterling
Brian Cloughley
Could Trump be Good for Peace?
Patrick Timmons
Racism, Freedom of Expression and the Prohibition of Guns at Universities in Texas
Gary Leupp
The Coming Crisis in U.S.-Turkey Relations
Pepe Escobar
Is War Inevitable in the South China Sea?
Norman Pollack
Clinton Incorruptible: An Ideological Contrivance
Robert Fantina
The Time for Third Parties is Now!
Andre Vltchek
Like Trump, Hitler Also Liked His “Small People”
Serge Halimi
Provoking Russia
David Rovics
The Republicans and Democrats Have Now Switched Places
Andrew Stewart
Countering The Nader Baiter Mythology
Rev. William Alberts
“Law and Order:” Code words for White Lives Matter Most
Ron Jacobs
Something Besides Politics for Summer’s End
David Swanson
It’s Not the Economy, Stupid
Erwan Castel
A Faith that Lifts Barricades: The Ukraine Government Bows and the Ultra-Nationalists are Furious
Steve Horn
Did Industry Ties Lead Democratic Party Platform Committee to Nix Fracking Ban?
Robert Fisk
How to Understand the Beheading of a French Priest
Colin Todhunter
Sugar-Coated Lies: How The Food Lobby Destroys Health In The EU
Franklin Lamb
“Don’t Cry For Us Syria … The Truth is We Shall Never Leave You!”
Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin
The Artistic Representation of War and Peace, Politics and the Global Crisis
Frederick B. Hudson
Well Fed, Bill?
Harvey Wasserman
NY Times Pushes Nukes While Claiming Renewables Fail to Fight Climate Change
Elliot Sperber
Pseudo-Democracy, Reparations, and Actual Democracy
Uri Avnery
The Orange Man: Trump and the Middle East
Marjorie Cohn
The Content of Trump’s Character
Missy Comley Beattie
Pick Your Poison
Kathleen Wallace
Feel the About Turn
Joseph Grosso
Serving The Grid: Urban Planning in New York
John Repp
Real Cooperation with Nations Is the Best Survival Tactic
Binoy Kampmark
The Scourge of Youth Detention: The Northern Territory, Torture, and Australia’s Detention Disease
Kim Nicolini
Rain the Color Blue with a Little Red In It
Cesar Chelala
Gang Violence Rages Across Central America
Tom H. Hastings
Africa/America
Robert Koehler
Slavery, War and Presidential Politics
Charles R. Larson
Review: B. George’s “The Death of Rex Ndongo”
July 28, 2016
Paul Street
Politician Speak at the DNC
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail