Free Speech Debate

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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.»

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Home | Case studies | Tom Cruise sues South Park

Tom Cruise sues South Park

Manav Bhushan and Casey Selwyn question whether it was right for Tom Cruise to threaten to sue US show South Park over an episode that depicted Scientology in a pejorative manner and blatantly hinted that he was gay.

The exterior of the Church of Scientology Celebrity Centre International, Los Angeles, California (Photo by Getty Images/Getty Images)
The exterior of the Church of Scientology Celebrity Centre International, Los Angeles, California (Photo by Getty Images/Getty Images)

The case

In November 2005, Comedy Central aired an episode of the US show South Park entitled Trapped in the Closet that depicted Scientology in a pejorative manner. The episode used cartoons to describe the history of Scientology and flashed, “Scientologists ACTUALLY believe this”, on the screen throughout. In the episode, a character who was obviously meant to be Tom Cruise believes that one of the children on the show is the reincarnation of the founder of Scientology, L. Ron Hubbard. The episode also mocked Cruise’s acting abilities, and blatantly hinted that he was gay (hence “trapped in the closet”). After the show was aired, Cruise reportedly threatened that if Viacom allowed the programme to be shown again, he would stop promoting his film Mission: Impossible 3, which was produced by Paramount Pictures (Viacom owns both Paramount Pictures and Comedy Central). Cruise also threatened to sue the creators of South Park in court.

Comedy Central pulled the repeat episode off of the air later that week, and the episode’s planned screening on the UK’s Paramount Comedy 1 channel was also cancelled. However, under pressure from fans and the creators of South Park, Comedy Central later aired the episode on two separate occasions, and also released the episode in DVD format.

Author opinion

It was wrong of Tom Cruise to threaten South Park, and the television companies should not have caved to intimidation and pulled the first repeat episode from the air. It is understandable that Cruise was upset by the episode, but we must remember that South Park is an animated comedy show which carries a disclaimer in the beginning of every episode that, “All characters depicted are fictional”, and which has a longstanding tradition of mocking celebrities in a very abrasive manner. It is certainly not taken seriously by viewers as news media. Rather than suing the creators or threatening Paramount Pictures, Cruise would have been well within his rights to publicly criticise the episode and counter its claims.

- Manav Bhushan and Casey Selwyn
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Published on: February 9, 2012 | 1 Comment

Comments (1)

Automated machine translations are provided by Google Translate. They should give you a rough idea of what the contributor has said, but cannot be relied on to give an accurate, nuanced translation. Please read them with this in mind.

  1. mastermind says:

    TOM CRUISE: Zdravo drugari, meni je dosadno . . . :(
    A i popularnost mi je opala, zato cu da vas tuzim pa ce ljudi da pricaju o meni a dobicu i neki pojen kod ovih mojih u crkve . . .
    SOUTH PARK: Hi hi hi hi mission imposibal 4, what a fuck :)

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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. www.freespeechdebate.ox.ac.uk