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 should be able to counter slurs on our reputations without stifling legitimate debate.

Timothy Garton Ash
A personal introduction

Privacy and reputation, the subjects of our eighth and ninth draft principles, are often closely linked - but they are not identical. There can be an infringement of your privacy, which is not a slur on your reputation: suppose you just don’t want people to know that you give half your income to help the poor. There can be a slur on your reputation which is not an infringement of you privacy: for example, the claim that as a government minister you suppressed vital intelligence as a government while making the case for your country to go to war.. (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: 1
  • Google sets up data removal webform

    Getting Google to forget you is harder than it seems

    Sebastian Huempfer describes the difficulties in having outdated information removed from Google, and explains why this might be a good thing.

    August 21, 2014 | 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
  • A news cameraman holds his camera aloft to film an inside view of corporate lobbyist Nira Radia's house in New Delhi

    The Nira Radia tapes controversy and the right to privacy

    Should government-initiated phone hacking be made public if the recordings are in the public interest? Shubhangi Bhadada exposes the thin line in India between the right to privacy and freedom of expression.

    January 23, 2013 | Comments: 2
  • Romedia

    Katalin Barsony on empowering Roma with technology

    Romedia Foundation aims to disseminate an insider's view of Romani issues, empower Romani activists and challenge stereotypes through new media.

    August 23, 2012 | Comments: 0
  • Kapil Sibal

    India’s textbook cartoon affair

    In May 2012, India's parliament withdrew a series of school textbooks that contained a political cartoon some MPs considered denigrating. Antoon De Baets discusses whether reputation, rights and public morals should ever trump educational free speech.

    August 20, 2012 | Comments: 1
  • Queen Elizabeth II Attends The State Opening Of Parliament

    Landmark libel bill falls short of expectations

    The new defamation bill fails to address some of the most important issues, including restrictions on the ability of corporations to sue for libel, writes Jonathan Heawood, director of English PEN.

    May 16, 2012 | Comments: 0
  • Max Mosley Wins Damages Against The News of The World

    Max Mosley on privacy

    The former head of Formula One racing's governing body talks about the difficulty of countering sensational claims made in a globally reported tabloid story, and draws a distinction between privacy and reputation.

    February 10, 2012 | Comments: 1
  • Katie Price & Peter Andre win a libel case against the News of the World in 2008 (Photo by Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images)

    What does “reputation” mean?

    The definition of "reputation" is hard to pin down and has varied from age to age and place to place. Let us know your understanding of the word here.

    January 30, 2012 | Comments: 3

More discussions

Case studies

  • Cheetahs in Tanzania (Photo by Ward Graham under a Creative Commons License)

    How an attempt at ‘libel tourism’ rebounded on a Tanzanian tycoon

    A British citizen blogged about a Tanzanian media magnate involved in throwing her and her husband off their Tanzanian farm. He sued for libel in a British court. Dominic Burbidge explains.

    June 5, 2014 | Comments: 0
  • First Amendment US Constitution

    A right to lie about government?

    In the landmark case of New York Times v Sullivan, in 1964, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that criticism of public officials must be protected, even if some of the claims were inaccurate. Jeff Howard explains.

    February 6, 2013 | Comments: 0
  • Bettina Wulff

    Can Google’s algorithm slander a politician’s wife?

    Type 'Bettina Wulff', the name of a former German president’s wife, into Google and the autocomplete function will add 'escort'. Is this algorithmic addition a form of defamation? Sebastian Huempfer explores the case.

    October 26, 2012 | Comments: 3
  • Orlando Figes

    Orlando Figes and the anonymous poison pen

    What exactly was wrong with a historian publishing caustic anonymous reviews of his competitors' books on Amazon? Katie Engelhart explores the issues raised by a tragic-comic case.

    August 30, 2012 | Comments: 2
  • The President Of The Republic Of South Africa Makes A State Visit To The UK

    Zuma and his spear

    A South African art gallery removed an explicit painting of President Jacob Zuma after pressure from the African National Congress, write Nimi Hoffmann and Maryam Omidi.

    June 25, 2012 | Comments: 1
  • U.S. President Obama, Mexico's President Calderon and his wife Margarita toast during a dinner in Mexico City

    The Mexican journalist and the “alcoholic” president

    Mexican journalist Carmen Aristegui was fired for publicly calling on President Felipe Calderón to clarify rumours that he suffered from alcoholism, writes Felipe Correa.

    March 14, 2012 | Comments: 2
  • (Source: Spiegel Online)

    The right of reply in Germany

    Germany has a statutory right of reply in the media. Maximilian Ruhenstroth-Bauer explains a path to defending your reputation without going to court.

    February 13, 2012 | Comments: 0
  • photo-5

    Singh v the British Chiropractic Association

    In 2008, the British Chiropractic Association launched a defamation lawsuit against science writer Simon Singh over an op-ed in which he suggested chiropractors lacked evidence for some of their medical claims. Maryam Omidi examines the case.

    February 10, 2012 | Comments: 0
  • The exterior of the Church of Scientology Celebrity Centre International, Los Angeles, California (Photo by Getty Images/Getty Images)

    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.

    February 9, 2012 | Comments: 1
  • King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand's 82nd birthday (Photo by Athit Perawongmetha/Getty Images)

    Criticism of the Thai king

    US blogger Joe Gordon was sentenced to two and a half years in a Thai prison for publishing links on his blog to an unauthorised biography of Thailand’s King Bhumibol Adulyadej. A case study by Maryam Omidi.

    February 6, 2012 | Comments: 1
  • IMF head Dominique Strauss-Kahn arrested on alleged sexual assault charges (Photo by Brian Harkin/Getty Images)

    Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s “perp walk”

    Was it right to make Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the former managing director of the IMF, do the "perp walk" after he was charged with sexually assaulting a hotel maid in New York? Clementine de Montjoye argues no.

    January 31, 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.