Talk is cheap, but free speech is not

Jan. 21, 2015

Royal Purple Editorial Staff Opinion

With recent events such as the threats from the Sony hackers due to the release of “The Interview” as well as the attack on the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, the topic of freedom of speech is everywhere.

It is apparent that Americans are passionate about protecting freedom of expression and the First Amendment, something that both of these massive events have attacked.

There have been mixed reactions; some believe freedom of speech should have no bounds, while others believe these particular instances were not worth the protection of the first amendment.

Freedom of speech is not just a right, it is a responsibility. We should use this freedom to do good rather than to entertain and offend.

While media has a responsibility to use freedom of speech for the benefit of the community rather than potentially offensive entertainment, it doesn’t mean these should not still be protected, and it certainly doesn’t mean people should be harmed by any other group because of it.

Satire and comedy are important in many different ways, one of these being they work to start a discussion about current events and offer alternative views on particular issues.

For example, rather than tuning into arguably “biased”— and therefore, untrustworthy — news sources such as Fox News (conservative) and MSNBC (liberal), the Pew Research Center says many people of younger generations turn to “satirical” news such as “The Colbert Report” or “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” because not only does it educate, but it entertains in the process.

Though both of these shows tend to have more of a liberal lean, they present politics and events through humor to make it seem more straightforward compared to “serious” news.

Now for these particular examples, things are a little different.

First of all, “The Interview” is supposed to be purely comedy rather than political satire — and though it is maybe not in the best taste, it is still protected as freedom of speech and expression. Threats from the Sony hackers led Sony to, at one point, withdraw the original release date. By withdrawing the release of the movie, an outside source was controlling what we, as Americans, can and cannot say. That is definitely not OK, and that is why it was a good decision for Sony to release it anyway to send the message that says they cannot control what we say and do by using fear tactics and terrorism threats.

In another huge event — the attacks on the writers and cartoonists for the French satirical paper Charlie Hebdo — the situation becomes different. First, the big difference is this resulted in the deaths of 12 people, and violence was a predominant factor rather than a threat. Second, this was not in America, so it was more of an international problem for the world rather than one only our country could relate to. Perhaps the largest difference, however, is the threat was a result of a reaction to a cartoon parody of religion that the extremists considered offensive.

There is a difference between an offensive comedy meant to entertain and an offensive cartoon meant to criticize. One does nothing more than entertain while the other creates a dialogue in which the readers can take a critical look at religion, politics, and other controversial subjects. That doesn’t mean entertainment shouldn’t be protected, at least to an extent.

Allowing offensive things to be printed, posted, aired and released does not mean we endorse them or the messages they convey. For example, the Westboro Baptist Church, despite their hateful speech, still has the freedom to say it. So, with “The Interview,” we aren’t endorsing the assassination of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un but rather saying it is something that should be allowed to be expressed. With Charlie Hebdo, we’re not endorsing rude comments about Muslims, but rather expressing one of many opinions on it.

Just because we ought to shift the focus sometimes on other critical world events, does not mean that these particular subjects should not be protected as well.

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