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 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.

Timothy Garton Ash
A personal introduction

If our first draft principle is the basic principle, our final one is a kind of meta-principle. It says we must be free to challenge all limits on free expression. That is a procedural claim. (more...)

Do you agree with this principle? Yes No


  • Ecuadorlastlaugh

    In Ecuador, cartoonist gets the last laugh

    Kim Wilkinson looks at an unusual order to ‘correct’ a cartoon, and the cartoonist’s clever reply.

    April 20, 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
  • 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.

    February 19, 2014 | Comments: 0
  • tunisianflag

    Who is threatening free speech in post-revolutionary Tunisia?

    Middle East specialist Rory McCarthy examines the role of Islamist movement Ennahdha in shaping, and constraining, freedom of speech in Tunisia after the Arab Spring.

    January 6, 2014 | Comments: 0
  • hensonphoto1

    Can Australia distinguish between art and pornography?

    Kim Wilkinson examines the case of celebrated Australian artist Bill Henson, who caused controversy in 2008 with his photography that featured images of naked teenagers.

    January 3, 2014 | Comments: 3
  • Thou shall not leak thumbnail

    Thou shall not leak

    Thomas Fingar, 2013 winner of the Sam Adams Awards for Integrity in Intelligence, argues that leaking classified information from within the intelligence services is unnecessary and dangerous.

    October 8, 2013 | Comments: 0
  • 6940964659_e9d1718209_z

    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.

    July 18, 2013 | Comments: 3
  • 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.

    July 17, 2013 | 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.

    June 28, 2013 | Comments: 0
  • Ray McGovern, a former CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) agent, appears during an unofficial forum o..

    In defence of whistleblowing

    Former CIA analyst Ray McGovern has been an outspoken defender of whistleblowers and alternative media sources.

    June 27, 2013 | Comments: 3
  • National Security Agency logo is shown on computer screen at NSA in Maryland

    A whistleblower’s argument

    Edward Snowden was not the first NSA official to sound the alarm. Thomas Drake, winner of the Sam Adams Award for Integrity in Intelligence, makes his case to Free Speech Debate.

    June 21, 2013 | Comments: 1
  • 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.

    June 12, 2013 | 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.

    June 12, 2013 | Comments: 0
  • A Zimbabwean man takes refuge at the Milnerton police station after fleeing a fresh outbreak of anti-foreigner violence in Cape Town

    When to be silent is to speak

    Stephen Meili examines the contrasting UK and US treatment of people who refuse to declare a political allegiance.

    June 6, 2013 | Comments: 1
  • 286771729_a0440dcae0

    Child pornography and freedom of expression

    Did the European Court of Human Rights wrongly considered the distribution of child pornography to be an exercise of freedom of expression in the case Karttunen v. Finland, asks Rónán Ó Fathaigh.

    April 24, 2013 | Comments: 0

More discussions

Case studies

  • Members of the English Defence League march in Luton

    When and where should extremists be allowed to march?

    Protests held by far right groups in ethnically diverse areas are provocation, but banning them can have undesired effects. Josh Black looks at a ban on the English Defence League in East London.

    May 29, 2013 | Comments: 1
  • Cartoonist Aseem Trivedi

    Satire or sedition? Political cartoons in India

    Indian Cartoonist Aseem Trivedi was recently arrested on sedition charges. Manav Bhushan discusses how an archaic section of India's penal code has been used to silence government critics.

    October 3, 2012 | Comments: 1
  • 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
  • Russian weapons specialist Igor Sutyagin

    The case of the Russian ‘spy’

    Igor Sutyagin, the Russian nuclear researcher sentenced to 15 years for espionage, found himself at the centre of a spy-swap deal in 2010, writes Olga Shvarova.

    July 10, 2012 | Comments: 1
  • Tarek Mehanna Sentenced To 17 Years In Prison

    Is pro-terrorist speech a crime? Massachusetts says so

    In 2012, Tarek Mehanna was sentenced to 17 and a half years in prison by a US court for conspiring to provide support to terrorists, writes Jeff Howard.

    May 22, 2012 | Comments: 6
  • Activists Protest Internet Copyright Restrictions ACTA

    ACTA: Open agreement secretly arrived at?

    The secretive approach adopted by parties in negotiating the controversial Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement constrained the ability of the public to challenge limits on free expression, writes Graham Reynolds.

    April 25, 2012 | Comments: 2
  • Britain National Archives Releases Classified Documents

    History reclassified as state secret: the case of Xu Zerong

    In 2002, historian Xu Zerong was sentenced to 13 years in jail for leaking state secrets. The classification of the leaked materials as "top secret" came only after he had been sentenced, writes Timothy Garton Ash.

    April 2, 2012 | Comments: 1
  • A placard is pictured during a protest g

    Turkish journalists: Şık and Şener

    In March 2011, two prominent investigative journalists were arrested in Turkey because of their alleged ties to a terrorist organisation. Ahmet Şık and Nedim Şener faced 15 years' imprisonment if they were convicted, write Funda Ustek and Irem Kok.

    February 17, 2012 | Comments: 0
  • Julian Assange Appears At Court To Fight Extradition Move

    Julian Assange: a journalist?

    In 2010, Wikileaks released its first tranche of classified US state department cables. If Julian Assange, founder of the whistle-blowing website, qualifies as a journalist then he would be protected under the first amendment, writes Katie Engelhart.

    February 10, 2012 | Comments: 4
  • Anat Kamm begins her four and a half year prison sentence (Photo by Uriel Sinai/Getty Images)

    The Israeli whistleblower

    Israeli whistleblower Anat Kamm leaked 2,000 classified military documents obtained during her service with the Israeli Defence Force. Maryam Omidi discusses the claims of national security versus public interest.

    February 1, 2012 | Comments: 2
  • South African President Jacob Zuma (Photo by Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images)

    South Africa’s secrecy bill

    In November 2011, South Africa’s lower house approved the protection of state information bill – legislation, which if passed can sentence those found guilty to up to 25 years' imprisonment, writes Maryam Omidi.

    January 26, 2012 | Comments: 0
  • Savita Bhabhi

    India’s cartoon porn star

    The Indian authorities' decision to ban Savita Bhabhi, an online comic strip featuring a promiscuous housewife with an insatiable appetite for sex, was met with a criticism from the press. Maryam Omidi weighs up whether it was the right decision.

    January 24, 2012 | Comments: 2

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.