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 require and create open, diverse media so we can make well-informed decisions and participate fully in political life.

Timothy Garton Ash
A personal introduction

Here is one of the most important reasons we need freedom of expression. How can we make good decisions on any issue unless we know the relevant facts and hear the arguments of others? How can we build strong, self-governing communities unless we listen to voices representing all who live in them?. (more...)

Do you agree with this principle? Yes No


  • Social media in China

    The way Xi moves: free speech under assault in China

    Shi Yige examines different approaches to censorship in China, and argues that while internet controls might avail the leadership in the short term, they are unsustainable.

    March 21, 2014 | Comments: 1
  • kenyamediapicture

    From incitement to self-censorship: the media in in the Kenyan elections of 2007 and 2013

    Katherine Bruce-Lockhart looks at the media's role in two Kenyan elections and argues that peace and critical media coverage should not be mutually exclusive.

    February 14, 2014 | Comments: 0
  • Phone hacking

    Pressing for press accountability in Britain

    Jonathan Heawood on ten reasons why independent self-regulation is good for free speech – and how his new initiative, IMPRESS, proposes to go about it.

    January 27, 2014 | Comments: 0
  • BBCpress

    Using the rhetoric of press freedom to thwart free speech

    Martin Moore, director of the Media Standards Trust, argues that the British press has denied the British public a proper debate on press regulation.

    December 12, 2013 | Comments: 0
  • Quote by Benjamin Franklin (Photo by k_donovan11 under a Creative Commons  Attribution 2.0 Licence)

    Is Facebook just the new chamber of commerce and Twitter the new telegraph?

    Political theorist Rob Reich discusses what adaptations we need as freedom of speech and association move increasingly from the offline to the online world. Can the old principles still apply in new circumstances?

    September 17, 2013 | Comments: 0
  • Russia's Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev speaks with Channel One Russia TV presenter Vladimir Pozner during the "Pozner" program in Moscow

    No free speech please, we’re Russian

    Famous Russian journalist Vladimir Pozner says he thinks Russia really has no concept of free speech. Oh, but there's one place where you do have complete freedom of expression...

    July 5, 2013 | Comments: 0
  • occupygezi

    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.

    June 7, 2013 | Comments: 0
  • Burning newspaper (Photo by Punit Paranjpe / Reuters)

    Does India need its Leveson?

    India has its own fierce debate about media regulation. Arghya Sengupta discusses how the shadow of the 1970s “Emergency” hangs over proposed steps from failed self-regulation to statutory regulation.

    May 30, 2013 | Comments: 3
  • 5566075309_550544f167_z

    George Orwell, Burma and three challenges to free expression

    Timothy Garton Ash delivers the Orwell Lecture at an unprecedented literary festival in Rangoon. He talks about three Orwells and three Burmas.

    April 23, 2013 | Comments: 0
  • 601px-Seal_of_Prime_Ministry_of_the_Republic_of_Turkey.svg

    A Turkish journalist’s censored plea for press freedom

    Kerem Oktem introduces our translation of a column by Hasan Cemal, which his newspaper, Milliyet, refused to print.

    April 12, 2013 | Comments: 1
  • 402-the-delaunay-bar

    Who should guard the Guardian?

    Alan Rusbridger, editor-in-chief of the Guardian, argues that Britain needs both a free press and reform of its failed regulatory system. Since this will require both time and openness, a new independent press regulator should therefore be given a year's trial run.

    April 2, 2013 | Comments: 0
  • buildings in Zawiyah damaged in fighting 2011

    Free speech and the gun in Libya

    Libyan media are crippled by their Gaddafi legacy. Without new regulations and, above all, bravery to stand up to violent intimidation, freedom of speech remains a distant dream, writes Jerry Timmins.

    March 29, 2013 | Comments: 0
  • 8509961275_b2c99ea907_z

    Is Burma sliding back into censorship?

    For all its talk of press freedom, the Burmese government has produced a surprise new bill containing oppressive provisions and undermining the press council it created. Ellen Wiles reports.

    March 21, 2013 | Comments: 0
  • A supporter of Southern Weekly in a wheelchair demonstrates outside the office of the liberal newspaper in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou

    The Southern Weekly affair: No closer to the Chinese dream?

    2013 began dramatically in China with a standoff between journalists and state propaganda authorities over a drastically rewritten New Year editorial. Timothy Garton Ash introduces English translations of the original and finally published versions.

    February 20, 2013 | Comments: 0
  • 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.

    February 5, 2013 | Comments: 0

More discussions

Case studies

  • A Kenyan reads a burnt copy of the Standard newspaper at the printing press in the Kenyan capital Nairobi

    “If you rattle a snake…” The Kenyan government bites its media

    In 2006 the Kenyan police violently raided the offices and printing press of the Standard Group media organisation. What was the government afraid of seeing reported? Dominic Burbidge explores a revealing case.

    March 5, 2013 | Comments: 1
  • Brazilian journalists

    Should journalists need a diploma?

    Brazil’s Supreme Court renewed a law that requires journalists to hold a university degree in journalism. A currently discussed Amendment to the Constitution could further restrict the country’s media writes Felipe Correa.

    August 16, 2012 | Comments: 1
  • 6686068171_c4b0e8e800_b

    Kazeboon: Egypt’s anti-military campaign

    In 2011, a group of young Egyptians organised public film screenings to expose military violence against civilians, writes Hebatalla Taha.

    April 5, 2012 | Comments: 1
  • Silent Walk In Tribute to The Victims Of Shooting In Jewish School

    Broadcasting a massacre

    In March 2012, self-proclaimed jihadist Mohammed Merah strapped a camera to his chest before killing seven people in France. Al-Jazeera TV channel opted not to show the footage, writes Jeff Howard.

    April 2, 2012 | Comments: 2
  • Hungarian Prime Minister Orban Meets Merkel

    Hungary’s new media regulation

    In 2010, the Hungarian prime minister passed a series of laws, giving excessive control over all private media to the government, writes Peter Bajomi-Lazar, a senior research fellow at the University of Oxford.

    March 30, 2012 | Comments: 2
  • Brazil

    Rede Globo & the 1989 Brazilian election

    Beyond Citizen Kane, a documentary on the 1989 Brazilian election, argues that broadcaster Rede Globo manipulated the montage in favour of one of the two remaining candidates, writes Felipe Correa.

    March 6, 2012 | Comments: 5
  • Wenzhou train collision

    Wenzhou train collision

    On July 23, 2011, two high-speed trains traveling on the Yongtaiwen railway line collided near the eastern coastal city of Wenzhou killing 40 people and injuring 191. A week later, all traces of the train accident had disappeared from newspaper and television programmes, writes Amy Qin.

    February 15, 2012 | Comments: 3
  • The human microphone at Zuccotti Park, New York

    The human microphone

    The Occupy Wall Street movement adopted "the human microphone" in response to its lack of a permit for the use of amplified sound on public property in New York City. The human microphone embodies the pluralistic nature of the movement itself and serves to enhance its message, writes Casey Selwyn.

    February 5, 2012 | Comments: 0
  • Han Han

    Han Han, the Chinese blogger

    With a readership of over 300 million, Han Han is one of China's most influential online personalities. Judith Bruhn looks at his blog as an example of an individual citizen creating more open and diverse media in difficult circumstances.

    January 25, 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.