When Words meet Executions: The Constraints of Free Speech
IMAGE BY YASIN AKGUL VIA THE TELEGRAPH
Today’s current state of affairs are encompassed by a myriad of tête-à-tête between our exemplary global political leaders; think the glorious Donald Trump and the suave Mohammad Bin Salman of Saudi Arabia. If you open a news channel or read an article, without a doubt you’ll read something about slain journalist Jamal Khashoggi and how it serves as a threat to free speech. The story of Jamal Khashoggi embodies the issues with the Arab world’s restrictions on free speech. There is a criticism to be implied on regimes in the Middle East as they lock down academics, journalists, and anyone who does not share propaganda-ridden sentiments of said regime. Brutal dismemberment of journalists globally have been occurring for decades, on lower-scale efforts, and can extend to a wide range of intellectual thinkers who are simply doing their jobs.
The crackdown on journalists is by no means a new issue, but as the years progress, there has been an increased effort by political leaders world-wide to attempt to silence journalists and media personnel as criticisms of their governments are expanding. If we look at the case of Turkey, following the coup d’état that occurred in 2016, more than 5000 intellectuals, academics, journalists alike were detained and till this day, hundreds remain imprisoned. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), journalists remain incarcerated in horrible jail conditions in Turkey, China, and Egypt. Their deterioration remains unnoticed as the world moves on from topics in the exploitative business we call media; we retreat to our personal bubbles and move on with our lives.
When Free Speech meets Death:
Free speech has always been a contentious issue, but what is outrageous in our present society, one that is engulfed with ring-wing movements from the United States to Brazil, is the audacity by political officials to clamp down on men and women who pronounce moral oaths as journalists to report the truth behind atrocities such as war-crimes, genocide, human rights violations, and many more.
The murder of Jamal Khashoggi has become an international sensation, and by sensation, I mean the response that this murder has received is rightly so, because when a kingdom as conservative as Saudi Arabia commits the ultimate crime, cold-blooded murder, there must be outrage and advocacy for safety and protection of free speech, otherwise the effectiveness of our judicial institutions will disappear.
The case of free speech in regards to journalism is rapidly disintegrating and in the case of Khashoggi, a man who was simply exercising his basic right to expression of opinion in order to help Crown Prince Mohamad Bin Salman. It sets a dangerous precedent for high-level officials to get away with the most vicious crimes and remain in power.
The issue with free press today is that it is no longer free, and this problem goes deeper into systemic root causes. Journalism and free speech should not be made as tools for propaganda. There will be biases, that is a given, but there cannot be the ruthless abuse or torturing of these individuals just because they do not cozy up as puppets to government officials and author pieces that immortalize said officials into heroic figures.
Thus, free speech must remain impartial and neutral, so long as it does not harm anyone, as in the case of hate-speech. In the case of Saudi Arabia’s barbaric handling of Mr. Khashoggi, something must be done to hold the government accountable and act as a deterrent for other savage killings of those attempting to silence intellectual thinkers to death.
Digital technology in the times of the Snowden revelations and whistle-blowers globally has made the media atmosphere a dangerous place to be in. Technology surveillance has become routine as official agencies such as the NSA and CIA have invisibly monitored individuals world-wide for any activities that do not align with their mandates.
Media Today: Disintegration
The hostile atmosphere for free speech has been further pushed by the tyrannies of the majority. Demagogues like Putin and Erdogan have abandoned rationality and approached independent press through isolating them and instituting a stance of fear so that journalists and free-thinkers remain in a position in which these leaders can control them; think state-owned media such as TRT or RT news.
What makes our global society even more fearsome today, is the shady coalition between media and politics that forces journalism to be used as a tool for censorship and propaganda. As media freedom world-wide has fallen to an increasingly low level in the past decade, the rise of right-wing leaders and organized crime syndicates threaten journalists and anyone who opposes political views, by intimidation, torture, prosecution, and of course, murder.