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Posted: Thursday 15 October, 2015 at 8:28 AM

When the Right of Free Speech becomes a Cancer

By: Adam Anderson, OPEN Interactive, Inc.

    A CANCER IS GROWING WITHIN ST. KITTS AND NEVIS, AND EARLY DETECTION AND TREATMENT OF UNCHECKED SLANDER AND LIBEL IS OF CRITICAL IMPORTANCE.

     

    Great and resilient democracies provide civil rights to the people. The first 10 Amendments to the USA Constitution guarantee certain inalienable rights. 

     

    The first of these rights reads, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

    Democratic rights are a privilege. My right to bear arms does not give me the right to shoot another in the absence of self defense. And, a privilege can also be abused. The invasive and prolific abundance of pornography for example, produced under the protection of free speech, diminishes the moral fabric of society.

    When does free speech become cancerous?

    The free flow of debate and the contest of ideas, both good and bad, from all and by all, are healthy. The right for any person to express their ideas and their opinions freely is an abiding universal human right.

    As an observation, much has been said in recent months within the Federation, under the protection of free speech rights and political expression, led by the media and a few political personalities, that warrant a national discussion about media freedoms and limitations.

    Should we be entitled, for example, to incite the overthrow of government? The very definition of treason is the crime of betraying one's country, especially by attempting to kill the sovereign or overthrow the government. What does it mean to incite others to this end?  Is this protected as freedom of speech?

    When political persons take to the public airways with unbridled statements of gratuitous insult, offered as facts which are patently untrue, is there a cost to the health and well-being of this society? Do these statements incite hatred of others?

    The right to free speech and expression, and the freedoms of the media that help foster the exchange of ideas in a democracy, are not absolute; they carry important responsibilities. They are exercised within the tolerance limits of the community and occasionally those limits are determined by the state, by law, to protect, for example, the security of the nation in extreme circumstances or to ensure the safety of others.

    Upon inspection within vibrant democracy are laws. France’s Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen (1789) describes free speech as "one of the most precious rights of man". It is certainly among the most important, because it helps to facilitate self-determination. 

    There is a line where protected freedoms are balanced against consequence of act. All democracies have court-based suppressions. While the right of free speech exists, citizens must not engage in any action or crime of making a false spoken statement damaging to a person's reputation — this is Slander. Additionally, you cannot publish a false statement that is damaging to a person's reputation; a written defamation — this is called Libel.

    Democratic values allow for matters of slander and libel to be brought before the court and civil damages levied where abuse is proven.  Public personalities and media houses should be on alert that a line exists that demands responsible journalism based in fact.  Any media house or personality that operates outside of this line, carries exposure and possible consequence under the law. We live in an age where digital media is routinely captured, indexed, and preserved in a manner to be brought forward and used as evidence in a court of law.  What has been said over digital mediums is permanent and enduring.  

    As an opinion, this author seeks to encourage nationals who consume free speech and media to exercise judicious discretion and always ask the question, what is the real motive behind the rhetoric, allegations, and aspersions? Is it power, spite, or a need for control?

    As a child watching television one late night with my father, we would see local advertisement where an obnoxious used car salesman would appear loudly proclaiming how AMAZING his deals were, in an attempt to drive unsuspecting consumers to the lot to purchase over-priced mechanically unsound vehicles. The louder the advertisement, the more shady the lot.  My father taught me that a correlation exists when obnoxious voices are used to persuade the uninformed and vulnerable masses.

    In St. Kitts and Nevis, perhaps the most toxic and loud are often as William Shakespeare’s Macbeth, ‘Tales told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.’

    Just as pornography can lead to social ills, unchecked libel and slander over the airways is a cancer that can lead to hatred and violence, and break down confidence within society and government. And while the courts here may allow libel and slander to flourish uncontested, the true cost is contention, distrust, and a polarized and divided nation. 

    Is this really healthy? Is there a balance to be maintained? 

    Just as some foods and habits must be avoided to reduce risk of cancer, perhaps those with the loudest angry voices should be asked, “What are you doing outside of your inciteful rhetoric and angry talk to actually create and produce tangible value for the community? And, why are you solely relying on the government to bring about positive change?

    If I was a politician out of power, I would join the private sector to affect positive change, and I would use the public airways to rally support around these positive activities.  Leadership is not defined by tearing down, but by building up.  Angry words alone divide, positive contributions within the community elevate.

    In short, express your political views but realize that your voice will be so much stronger when listeners know what you are doing to build a more perfect union while you are off the air.

    What are your thoughts? Please express them below.
     
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