Freedom of speech: the right to be offended


This podcast is a lecture given by Nick Cohen, journalist and author of You Can’t Read This Book  (which won the Polemic of the Year award at the Political Book Awards 2013)  to the Literature Society of Queen Mary College, University of London.

Nick Cohen speaking at QMUL.

Nick Cohen speaking at QMUL.

In it, Nick discusses the importance of free speech in an ever-growing age of information sharing and speaks out against censorship which he says can actually hurt (people have lost their jobs, been imprisoned, even been sentenced to death for things they have said) and not just offend or disgust.  If we are to have freedom of speech, real freedom of speech, we have to assert and value the right to be offended, after all free societies are, by definition, robust, argumentative, noisy.

Freedom of speech, he says, is a Foundation Right – a right from which other rights flow.

He suggests that the 1968 generation, in developing laws  that ban incitement to hatred of minorities, has opened the door to minorities, particularly religious minorities, who want the right to be intolerant, even though freedom of religion relies on freedom of speech. And though many of the current calls for censorship come from religious quarters, religions have a lot to lose from banning free speech.

Censorship, he says, is always on important subjects such as religion and political power – but we are grown ups who have a right to know and we have a right to criticise, satirise and mock.

Nick Cohen is a journalist for The Observer and Evening Standard.   Other titles include What’s Left? and Waiting for the Etonians.


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