Free Speech Debate

Thirteen languages. Ten principles. One conversation.

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1We – all human beings – must be free and able to express ourselves, and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas, regardless of frontiers.»
2We defend the internet and all other forms of communication against illegitimate encroachments by both public and private powers.»
3We require and create open, diverse media so we can make well-informed decisions and participate fully in political life.»
4We speak openly and with civility about all kinds of human difference.»
5We allow no taboos in the discussion and dissemination of knowledge.»
6We neither make threats of violence nor accept violent intimidation.»
7We respect the believer but not necessarily the content of the belief.»
8We are all entitled to a private life but should accept such scrutiny as is in the public interest.»
9We should be able to counter slurs on our reputations without stifling legitimate debate.»
10We must be free to challenge all limits to freedom of expression and information justified on such grounds as national security, public order, morality and the protection of intellectual property.»

What’s missing?

Is there a vital area we have not addressed? A principle 11? An illuminating case study? Read other people's suggestions and add your own here. Or start the debate in your own language.

Home | Archives | Team Blog

Oh no, evil goes viral!

Reader of Free Speech Debate “jagracie” asked us to write on the “appalling article written in Zimbabwe” and respond with something that could help readers hold hate speech to account. Dominic Burbidge gives his best suggestion.

Published on: February 27, 2014 | Principle 4 | Comments: 0


What really threatens free expression in India

Faisal Devji explores the deeper lessons from the forced withdrawal of an ‘alternative history’ of the Hindus.

Published on: February 26, 2014 | Principle 5 | Comments: 0

Image by Austronesian Expeditions under this license

Is it a crime to offend bread?

For one taxi company in the Russian town of Kostroma, the answer turned out to be yes. Sergey Fadeev explains.

Published on: February 19, 2014 | Principle 10 | Comments: 0

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How to make counter-speech sexy: on combating online hate speech and extremism

Kim Wilkinson reports on a counter-speech event held at Google London on creating the positive online.

Published on: March 31, 2014 | Principle 4 | Comments: 1


Europe’s common tongue: bad English

Sebastian Huempfer reviews a new dictionary that may help native speakers better understand the European Union’s weird brand of the English language.

Published on: March 14, 2014 | Principle 1 | Comments: 0


Homage to Catalan

Timothy Garton Ash introduces a translation of our ten principles into Catalan and a reflection on having Catalan as your native language.

Published on: March 6, 2014 | Principle 1 | Comments: 0

presenting Babble at the WordPress Conference

From Babel to Babble

Free Speech Debate web developer Simon Dickson describes the new open source code developed for our – or any other – multi-language Word Press site.

Published on: November 11, 2013 | Comments: 0

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Connected world, fragmented world

Is internet access a human right? What are the limits of free speech online and what should they be? By Judith Bruhn.

Published on: October 18, 2013 | Principle 1 | Comments: 4

Protestors wearing Guy Fawkes masks participate in demonstration against ACTA in Berlin

Blackout: why Russian internet sites are going dark over anti-piracy laws

2,000 websites blacked out their pages for a day to protest against the "Russian SOPA", an anti-piracy law lobbied for by the film industry. By Maryam Omidi.

Published on: August 1, 2013 | Principle 2 | Comments: 1


Who is tracking the trackers? Use “Collusion” to find out.

The debate raised by revelations of NSA surveillance has drawn our attention to how we are being tracked online. Sebastian Huempfer describes a new tool to show us how those electronic cookies crumble.

Published on: July 18, 2013 | Principle 10 | Comments: 2

A computer used for registering voters is seen in a makeshift registration centre along a road in Lagos

Why ramp up internet surveillance in Nigeria?

The Nigerian government is rumoured to have sealed a $40m dollar contract for internet surveillance technology. There is no clear justification for this “secret” deal, and no assurance that the technology would be used fairly, given Nigeria’s lack of established rights for citizen privacy. By Nwachukwu Egbunike and Dominic Burbidge.

Published on: July 17, 2013 | Principle 10 | Comments: 0

Vona, chairman of Jobbik party, delivers a speech to hundreds of far-right supporters during a rally against the World Jewish Congress Plenary Assembly in Budapest

Why shouldn’t a Hungarian historian call Jobbik “neo-nazi”?

Tamás Szigeti explores the asymmetric narrowing of free speech in Hungary.

Published on: July 10, 2013 | Principle 5 | Comments: 0

U.N. Secretary-General Ban reaches for U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Pillay after a news conference after the first day of the Durban Review Conference on racism at the U.N. in Geneva

The UN’s search for international consensus on free speech

Josh Black hears the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, discuss the quest for shared laws and standards.

Published on: July 8, 2013 | Principle 4 | Comments: 0

Director Ang Lee poses with his Oscar for Best Director for his film "Life of Pi" at the 85th Academy Awards in Hollywood

The best director censored

Ang Lee’s winning Oscar speech was censored in China to remove his special thanks to Taiwan.

Published on: June 28, 2013 | Principle 10 | Comments: 0


Twitter, free speech, and sexism – an #outcry from Germany

Sarah Glatte explores the potential and pitfalls of social media in combating sexism.

Published on: June 26, 2013 | Principle 4 | Comments: 0

Photos of Snowden, a contractor at the NSA, and U.S. President Obama are printed on the front pages of local English and Chinese newspapers in Hong Kong in this illustration photo

Nothing to hide

Four former intelligence professionals, including winners of the Sam Adams Awards for Integrity in Intelligence, reveal their views on whistle-blowing and the legitimate secrecy in democratic societies. By Judith Bruhn and Josh Black.

Published on: June 12, 2013 | Principle 10 | Comments: 2

Anti-government protesters drink beer atop a building as thousands of protesters gather in Istanbul's Taksim square

Message from the “heartbeat” city: participatory democracy or bust!

Gezi Park has become a public square for political free expression, writes Ayşe Kadıoğlu.

Published on: June 12, 2013 | Principle 10 | Comments: 0


Why Turkey’s mainstream media preferred penguins to protest

Kerem Oktem, in Istanbul, reflects on the pernicious influence of the government and business interests on Turkish broadcasters.

Published on: June 7, 2013 | Principle 3 | Comments: 0


The bizarre story of how lippy librarians faced down a silly publisher

A university librarian faced a lawsuit over a critical blog post about the publishing house Edwin Mellen Press but online solidarity won out. By Dominic Burbidge.

Published on: May 27, 2013 | Principle 1 | Comments: 0


Is privacy getting lost in Google’s “cracks and crevices”?

A globally-effective privacy regime is a realistic goal, argues Ian Brown. But it needs giants like Google to get behind it.

Published on: May 23, 2013 | Principle 2 | Comments: 0


A right to privacy? Not at the expense of free speech!

Our user argues with one of our draft principles challenging the idea that privacy is a condition for free speech.

Published on: May 21, 2013 | Principle 1 | Comments: 1

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Burma in Thailand: working for free speech across the border

Clementine de Montjoye visits Burmese exiles in Thailand and finds King Zero, the Best Friends Library and the Brilliant Burma School.

Published on: May 20, 2013 | Principle 1 | Comments: 0

Actor Harris performs with the cast of The Book of Mormon during the American Theatre Wing's 66th annual Tony Awards in New York

I enjoyed the Book of Mormon musical. Now for the Book of Islam?

The Mormons reacted brilliantly to the musical satirising their faith, but something important is lost when we treat religions so differently - writes Katie Engelhart.

Published on: May 16, 2013 | Principle 7 | Comments: 0


Poland marks World Press Freedom Day with new award

Freedom of expression is in good shape in Poland. Yet, freedoms need to be continuously cultivated and defended. The new Article 54 journalism award in Poland is a great initiative to remind society of this responsibility, writes Annabelle Chapman.

Published on: May 14, 2013 | Principle 2 | Comments: 1


Jesus Christ Superstar? Not in Rostov, Russia

The Russian parliament’s vote in support of a declaration against acts offending religious sentiments is symptomatic of worrying trends, write Olga Shvarova and Dominic Burbidge.

Published on: May 8, 2013 | Comments: 0

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To tweet or not to tweet? That is the question

The UK’s Director of Public Prosecutions has released guidelines on when social media users should be prosecuted. But there are still not adequate guarantees for freedom of expression, writes Dominic Burbidge.

Published on: March 27, 2013 | Comments: 1


The late Ronald Dworkin on ‘How universal is liberalism?’

To honour the memory of Ronald Dworkin, a brilliant philosopher and advocate of free speech, we post his remarkable 2012 Dahrendorf Lecture.

Published on: February 14, 2013 | Principle 1 | Comments: 0


Can the treatment of animals be compared to Nazi concentration camps?

Not in Germany, said the German courts. And the European Court of Human Rights agreed.

Published on: February 13, 2013 | Principle 5 | Comments: 3

Besseres Hannover Twitter account

Twitter picks off an easy case

In October 2012 Twitter announced the blocking in Germany of tweets from a neo-Nazi group. Judith Bruhn discusses the first act of Twitter’s new country-by-country policy.

Published on: February 11, 2013 | Principle 2 | Comments: 0

At the Irrawaddy Literary Festival, Aung San Suu Kyi listens to an announcement of several Oxford initiatives for Burmese Studies, with Timothy Garton Ash and (speaking) Andrew Heyn, the British Ambassador to Burma.

The lady, the writers and the ex-prisoners

Burma’s first Literary Festival in 2013 revealed a rich literary culture as well as continuing tough challenges faced by writers.

Published on: February 8, 2013 | Principle 1 | Comments: 1

Activist from regional Sikh political party gestures in front mock TV set during protest in New Delhi

The crumbling fourth pillar

The Indian media is in danger of losing its moral compass to the pressures of the new capitalism. It may be a time for a boycott in order to stop the rot, argues Manav Bhushan.

Published on: February 5, 2013 | Principle 3 | Comments: 0

Illustration photo of a copy of the Southern Weekly newspaper, published on January 3, 2013, with an editorial article which later sparked anti-censorship protest, in Guangzhou

Pressing for freedom: the protest over China’s “Southern Weekly”

The Chinese Communist Party aims to control privately owned media without appearing to do so. A strike at a local newspaper imperils that balance, writes Liu Jin.

Published on: February 1, 2013 | Principle 3 | Comments: 1

Free Speech Debate is a research project of the Dahrendorf Programme for the Study of Freedom at St Antony's College in the University of Oxford.