Free speech under attack


Photo via Google Creative Commons License

Freedom of speech and freedom of the press are two rights guaranteed to Americans by their constitution.

Brynn MacDougall, Op-Ed Editor

One of the most important civil rights guaranteed to Americans is the right to free speech. Free speech allows citizens to express themselves, and by doing so, open discussions on controversial issues that can lead to change.

Knowledge is power, and free speech allows journalists to report on the happenings of the world, thus keeping the public well informed so they aren’t taken advantage of by the government and big business.

But recently, journalists and free speech have come under attack.

In August 2014, during the height of the Ferguson protests, reporters were only allowed access to certain parts of the city. Several journalists reported that they were threatened with arrest and affected by the tear gas used against the peaceful protesters.

Scott Olson, a photographer from Getty Images, was arrested and held in custody for a few hours before the police released him.

On July 5, 2016 Black Lives Matter activists formed a blockade on a highway to protest the ongoing racial profiling and murder of unarmed black people. Reporters Without Borders, an international non-governmental organization, reported that five journalists had been arrested for obstructing the highway in Baton Rouge, La.

The Baton Rouge police had no right to arrest those journalists. Reporters are supposed to keep the public informed and aware of what is going on in society. They cannot do that if they have to worry about being arrested for doing their job. Arresting journalists on the job is just another form of censorship.

Carlet Cleare and Justin Carter, two black journalists in Rochester, New York, were detained in September for covering Black Lives Matter protests as well.

Again, journalists came under fire in September. Co-founder of Democracy Now!, Amy Goodman was charged with participating in a riot and trespassing charges for interviewing Dakota Access Pipeline protesters. Goodman has stated that she did not take part in any rioting and did not trespass.

Even if she did trespass, it would have been to do her job as a reporter and keep the public informed. Thankfully, judge John Grinsteiner threw the case out, declaring that there was lack of probable cause.

It’s not just the police that are attacking the media. President-elect Donald Trump stated at a rally in Fort Worth, Texas: “One of the things I’m going to do if I win…I’m going to open up our libel laws so when they write purposely negative and horrible and false articles, we can sue them and win lots of money. We’re going to open up those libel laws. So when The New York Times writes a hit piece which is a total disgrace or when The Washington Post, which is there for other reasons, writes a hit piece, we can sue them and win money instead of having no chance of winning because they’re totally protected.”

What Trump proposed is a direct violation of American civil liberties. He wants to bully dissenters into submission and silence. Other infamous dictators have done similar things to silence the truth, past and present.

Vladimir Putin established an agency in 2002 that allowed citizens to report offensive material that could be linked to terrorism. It was quickly turned into a tool to silence anyone who disagreed with the government and Russia as a whole.

In June 2015 children’s book, “Flags of the World” came under fire. The book contained an entry detailing the symbolism of Lithuania’s flag. In the description, resistance to Russian rule was mentioned. The book was reported by Russian politician Alexander Khinshtein and banned the following day.

The now deceased Cuban dictator Fidel Castro imprisoned several of his political opponents. In addition to political enemies, Castro’s administration targeted civilians as well. Graffiti artist Danilo Maldonado Machado, also known as “El Sexto” was jailed when he painted the names of Fidel Castro and his brother, Raúl Castro, on live pigs that he planned to use for an artistic demonstration.

This is the sort of thing that Trump would like to see in America, the so-called land of the free.