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.


We – all human beings – must be free and able to express ourselves, and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas, regardless of frontiers.

Timothy Garton Ash
A personal introduction

This principle is first not just in order but in importance. It is the basic principle. The other nine principles say more about what this one means, how it can be realised and where the limits to free expression should lie. (more...)

Do you agree with this principle? Yes No


  • 727px-Eric_Schmidt

    Google grapples with the ‘right to be forgotten’

    Katie Engelhart attends the public hearing of Google’s Advisory Council, set up in response to a European Court of Justice judgement.

    October 29, 2014 | Comments: 0
  • behud-censorship

    Religion. Privacy. National Security. What limits to free speech do they justify?

    Timothy Garton Ash presents ‘sample tours’ of our content: three for the general reader, and three specifically for schools.

    October 21, 2014 | Comments: 0
  • Gaza reporting

    Clueless in Gaza: Western media and the Arab-Israeli conflict

    John Lloyd explores the history and weakness of Western media coverage, and suggests one way it could be improved.

    October 10, 2014 | Comments: 0
  • Salman Rushdie: 25 years after The Satanic Verses thumbnail

    Salman Rushdie: free speech, 25 years on

    25 years after the fatwa and the fall of the Berlin Wall, Salman Rushdie discusses with Timothy Garton Ash whether there is now more or less freedom of expression in Europe, worrying developments in India and his critical view of Edward Snowden.

    August 30, 2014 | Comments: 0
  • Freedom to offend? thumbnail

    Freedom to offend?

    At the London School of Economics Students's Union Freshers' Fair members of the Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Student Society were asked to cover up their T-shirts displaying a Jesus and Mo cartoon. This panel discussion discusses the freedom to offend and how to balance freedom of expression and civility.

    August 27, 2014 | Comments: 0
  • Blasphemy Laws in Europe thumbnail

    Should Europe introduce a ‘right to blaspheme’?

    Alain Bouldoires talks to Timothy Garton Ash about the survival of blasphemy laws in Europe, and calls for a 'right to blaspheme'.

    August 18, 2014 | Comments: 0
  • Protest

    The long struggle to bury speech crimes in the English-speaking world

    Anthony Lester and Zoe McCallum look at how the ghost of the English Court of the Star Chamber has been used to suppress free speech.

    April 28, 2014 | Comments: 0
  • Ann Wright

    A former US Diplomat says secrecy is necessary when peace is at stake

    Former US Diplomat Ann Wright speaks to Kim Wilkinson on the need for whistleblowers and institutions like WikiLeaks, but stresses that in some instances secrecy is necessary, such as in peace-making negotiations.

    April 9, 2014 | Comments: 0
  • EU

    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.

    March 14, 2014 | Comments: 0
  • Placadegeorgeorwell

    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.

    March 6, 2014 | Comments: 0
  • Catalanflag

    Our draft principles and introduction in Catalan

    Our draft principles, and Timothy Garton Ash's personal introduction, have been translated into Catalan.

    March 4, 2014 | Comments: 1
  • freedomofspeechcatalan

    The importance of speaking Catalan

    Pere Vilanova reflects on his personal experience of learning his ‘native’ tongue – as a third language.

    March 2, 2014 | Comments: 3
  • Norway

    Assessing the state of free speech in Norway

    University of Oslo professor Tore Slaatta describes a pioneering project to evaluate freedom of expression in a whole country.

    December 22, 2013 | Comments: 0
  • The Orwell Prize in Burma 2013 thumbnail

    Reading Orwell in Rangoon

    At the 2013 Irrawaddy Literary Festival, Burmese writers including Pascal Khoo Thwe and blogpoet Pandora talk about George Orwell in the country where he was once an imperial policeman.

    December 5, 2013 | Comments: 0
  • Screen Shot 2013-10-17 at 11.00.22

    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.

    October 18, 2013 | Comments: 4

More discussions

Case studies

  • Image by Amirul Hilmi Ariffin (no changes made) under a Creative Commons License.

    Eatock v Bolt: a controversial Australian hate speech case

    Max Harris explains why journalist Andrew Bolt was found in breach of Australia’s Racial Discrimination Act for articles about “fair-skinned Aboriginal people”.

    May 9, 2014 | Comments: 0
  • Palace_of_Europe_-_plenary_hall

    Is the European Court of Human Rights merely defending the uncontroversial?

    A famous case of state censorship in Austria highlights the tendency of governments to pander to the majority, leaving controversial views unprotected. By Michele Finck.

    April 9, 2013 | Comments: 1
  • Cows in India

    What’s your beef with my freedom to eat it?

    Bans on eating beef and pork are contested in India. Manav Bhuhshan discusses why this is an issue of caste discrimination and can be seen as a restriction on freedom of expression.

    October 8, 2012 | Comments: 2
  • Wang Xiaoning

    Yahoo, free speech and anonymity in China

    In 2002 Wang Xiaoning was sent to prison for 10 years after Yahoo passed on personal information Chinese authorities used to identify him. Judith Bruhn explores a case of conflicting laws and moral expectations.

    October 1, 2012 | Comments: 0
  • Three Blind Brothers Survive on Aid in Gaza

    The importance of Braille literacy

    In 2010, the Canadian National Institute for the Blind almost closed its library because of funding issues. Yet some argue that those who can't read Braille are akin to illiterates, writes Katie Engelhart.

    July 6, 2012 | Comments: 0
  • Hazare speaks to doctors on the sixth day of his fast at Ramlila grounds in New Delhi

    Hunger strike as free expression

    Last year, Anna Hazare, a 74-year-old Indian anti-graft campaigner, undertook a "fast-unto-death" as a way of pressuring the government to enact anti-corruption legislation. Should a hunger strike be protected as a form of free expression? Manav Bhushan and Katie Engelhart offer contrasting views.

    March 13, 2012 | Comments: 2
  • A six-year-old Kurdish boy, watches a lesson given in Turkish (Photo by Chris Hondros/Getty Images)

    Kurdish in Turkey, Turkish in Bulgaria

    Kerem Öktem compares how the governments of Bulgaria and Turkey treat the language rights of their most important minorities.

    February 17, 2012 | Comments: 5
  • "We the Corporations v We the People" rally in Capitol Hill (Photo By Bill Clark/Roll Call)

    Does money have the right to speak?

    The US supreme court's decision on Citizens United raises a vital issue: should corporations have the same free speech rights as individuals? Brian Pellot discusses the case.

    February 10, 2012 | Comments: 8
  • 4444569867_f63b77a9cb_z

    When doing nothing is free expression

    In 2011, the Belarusian police arrested scores of people at a silent protest in Minsk. Annabelle Chapman looks at the case.

    February 10, 2012 | Comments: 0

More case studies

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.