Free Speech is Under Attack Worldwide Reply

The Economist

IN A sense, this is a golden age for free speech. Your smartphone can call up newspapers from the other side of world in seconds. More than a billion tweets, Facebook posts and blog updates are published every single day. Anyone with access to the internet can be a publisher, and anyone who can reach Wikipedia enters a digital haven where America’s First Amendment reigns.

However, watchdogs report that speaking out is becoming more dangerous—and they are right. As our report shows, curbs on free speech have grown tighter. Without the contest of ideas, the world is timid and ignorant.

Free speech is under attack in three ways. First, repression by governments has increased. Several countries have reimposed cold-war controls or introduced new ones. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia enjoyed a free-for-all of vigorous debate. Under Vladimir Putin, the muzzle has tightened again. All the main television-news outlets are now controlled by the state or by Mr Putin’s cronies. Journalists who ask awkward questions are no longer likely to be sent to labour camps, but several have been murdered.

China’s leader, Xi Jinping, ordered a crackdown after he took over in 2012, toughening up censorship of social media, arresting hundreds of dissidents and replacing liberal debate in universities with extra Marxism. In the Middle East the overthrow of despots during the Arab spring let people speak freely for the first time in generations. This has lasted in Tunisia, but Syria and Libya are more dangerous for journalists than they were before the uprisings; and Egypt is ruled by a man who says, with a straight face: “Don’t listen to anyone but me.”

 

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