Saturday, January 17, 2015

My True Apologies To Free Speech

The murder of a dozen people by a trio of ignorant and hate-filled terrorists who have distorted the meaning of their religion has left the world in tears. Freedom of speech was shot down in broad daylight, even as cops were stationed to protect journalists and satirical cartoonists from just such an action. We see just how fragile our institutions are, how exposed they are to the powerful forces that oppose them. Free speech and journalistic freedom of expression is under siege and needs to be re-asserted. 

Though I stand strong and tall today for the rights of a free press, I must confess that there was a time when I didn't support a journalist and publication because of its inflammatory content. It was back in the late 80s when I was attending Brooklyn College, the final stop of a three-school, five-year odyssey that I came across what I viewed as an unhealthy scene. 

The campus newspaper, a weekly called The Kingsman, with a long and rich history of being the official paper of record, fell under scrutiny by the diverse student body when it began publishing insensitive, anti-Semitic and racist cartoons. I was writing for a newly formed paper, The Excelsior. We had just gotten student funding and were competing with The Kingsman not only for advertisers but the campus soul.

At the time it happened I remember thinking that one had the right to publish these distasteful cartoons but it was not a publication worthy of student funding. A campaign began on campus to pass s referendum to defund the paper. I supported its passing. That is exactly what happened.

But they came back the next year, no longer an official paper of the school and no longer funded by its students, and it continued to publish. The offending editor in chief moved on after that. The paper went in to regain its funding and the campus had two official papers, which is unusual.

But it haunted me that I didn't recognize then what I know now, that free speech can't have purse strings attached to it. It is not just governments or terrorists that censor or threaten the media-- it is funding and the threat of it being pulled that manipulates the editorial policy of a publication.

The Kingsman should have acted more responsibly, but in retrospect, I realize it was teaching us a valuable lesson about free speech and its limits. We failed it by defunding it. That could have killed the publication permanently but to its credit, it found a way to stay afloat with advertising. I am glad it did.

In light of what happened in Paris this week, I found myself thinking back to half a lifetime ago when a part of me turned away from a principle that I now cherish.

True free speech is to have a world where ideas flow freely without interference, censorship, threats of jail or violence, or financial repercussions. Even when ideas proposed offend our sensibilities or things and people we cherish, we can't just lash out at the creative messengers, artists and journalists. Sometimes their controversial theories, ideas, opinions, or findings take time to be adopted by the masses, and even when it doesn't become apparent to the artist that perhaps he is not on a path to a higher truth, we need to be more forgiving.

But free speech, as we have seen often through history, comes with s huge price. Government jailings and executions still exist over matters of speech and the media. Businesses punish those who speak against it, using firings and lawsuits to control how it is publicly discussed.

Standup for free speech, especially when you abhor what is being said.

Je Suis Charlie.


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Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer, Media Connect, the nation’s largest book promoter. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog © 2015

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