Just when you think the current President of the United States couldn’t shock you any more with his antics, he finds a new way to do so.
In response to negative press coverage, President Trump recently wondered aloud if the “licenses” of some of the media outlets could be revoked.
George Orwell wrote: “If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.”
Trump obviously doesn’t want to listen to his critics; his musings, should they have any force at all, are a threat to American liberty. UK tabloid headlines calling for “saboteurs” to be “crushed”, reinforced with ill-judged statements by politicians have had a similar chilling effect.
The laws in Britain and America which protect freedom of speech and the press are not a guarantee.
As Orwell also said: “The relative freedom which we enjoy depends on public opinion. The law is no protection. Governments make laws, but whether they are carried out, and how the police behave, depends on the general temper in the country. If large numbers of people are interested in freedom of speech, there will be freedom of speech, even if the law forbids it; if public opinion is sluggish, inconvenient minorities will be persecuted, even if laws exist to protect them.”
I believe in telling truth to power; I believe we all need to maintain a vital interest in freedom of speech in order to ensure its survival. However, we must acknowledge this freedom is not supposed to sit entirely comfortably with us; liberty is not just a gift that keeps on giving, it also demands a sacrifice. It calls for us to be willing to tolerate discomfort, even disgust, and to endure some level of disquiet.
I do not support the English Defence League. I regard their beliefs as hateful and divisive; I believe that they have poisoned the political atmosphere in this country. I would rather that they ceased activity at once. Nevertheless, they do exist. They are also determined to come to Peterborough and hold a march. But: if I believe in liberty, and I do, I have to respect their right to protest. That said, respecting their right to protest places an obligation on them to equally recognise the rights of others to hold their own demonstrations against the EDL’s presence in our city. Navigating this situation is a challenge for those of us in government and individually.
Orwell says: “Threats to freedom of speech, writing and action, though often trivial in isolation, are cumulative in their effect and, unless checked, lead to a general disrespect for the rights of the citizen”.
If we want to preserve our liberty against the Trumps of this world, then we need to consider the freedoms of those with whom we disagree.