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Freedom Of Speech Vs Human Dignity?

With debates worldwide on the role of the Press and freedom of speech following the publication of caricatures of Mohamed, it's interesting to bring this debate to our own doorstep where harmful material gets published. For those who advocate 'support locals' I wonder about their standards when they lambaste local petrol stations, restaurants, estate agents, golf courses and other newspapers.

We live in a wonderful town with wonderful people and I question why a tiny number of individuals take it on themselves to openly harm some local businesses by naming and insulting them in print. What is the glory in that?

Three weeks ago online news sites were full of the freedom of the press debates. While several European publications also published the caricatures, the British Press refused to publish them, as did those in the US. They themselves were criticised for denying the public its right to know.

The BBC and Sky News in particular defended themselves by saying they felt the caricatures were offensive and harmful to Islamic believers and so shouldn't be published. Here are some pertinent comments about the debate: Kofi Annan, the United Nations secretary general: "Freedom of speech is never absolute. It entails responsibility and judgment."

UK Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw: "There is freedom of speech, we all accept that, but there is not any obligation to insult or to be gratuitously inflammatory."

Richard Harries, Bishop of Oxford: "Freedom of speech is fundamental but this needs to be exercised responsibly."

Danish Vice Prime Minister, Bendt Bendtsen: "I've got nothing against freedom of speech - it is important for us all - but if it can offend and hurt a lot of people, why use freedom of speech for that?"

And in South Africa a High Court granted an application to stop Sunday papers from publishing the cartoons. Johannesburg High Court, Judge Mohamed Jajbhay, found the right to dignity outweighed the right to freedom of expression. He said 'although freedom of the press was enshrined in the constitution, it was not a paramount right. There was also a constitutional limitation to the freedom of speech, namely an incitement to hatred'. The judge found' that the right to dignity, both for an individual and a group, was more important than the right to freedom.'

SA Government spokesperson Joel Netshitenzhe, commenting on the cartoon row in February this year said: "South Africa upholds the principle of freedom of speech. However, we appreciate that our constitution enjoins us, in exercising this right, to respect the sensitivities of individuals and communities, and to eschew actions that may be interpreted as hate speech."

These two South African comments and others, I believe from a legal eagle could well be used as benchmarks in future defamation cases in South Africa - where citizens of this country believe they have been libelled in the Press.

St Francis Chronicle receives many letters from people running down individuals, businesses or organisations. They contain partisan accusations about interference, prevention of trade, shoddy workmanship or service, or just plain insults against some prominent locals the letter writers dislike. Most of these gripes belong in civil courts - not in a newspaper.

St Francis Chronicle has the axiom that 'it will never publish articles or letters designed to harm local individuals, businesses or organisations' - unless both parties can have their say, give permission for publication and the article is fairly balanced. And we stand by this just as the British Press stood by their principles.

As for local attempts to harm, we echo the recent words of Hamid Karzai, Afghan president, commenting on the cartoons' publication: "As much as we condemn this, we must have the courage to forgive." But that doesn't mean that insults against local businesses should continue. Life's too short; we should all work together for the good of St Francis.


The art of manners….

What is a private party? One would answer perhaps that it's one where you are invited. Well, if that is so, I wonder about gate crashers who rock up in casual gear and don't even greet the host and wish him well. I mean a guest list is of people you want at your party. If someone at the party invites someone not on the guest list, surely a courtesy call to the host to ask permission to bring so and so would prevent the fury of the host finding someone at his party that he particularly disliked?



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