Aryeh Neier: Why more speech is the cure to bad speech

The president of the Open Society Foundations talks about free speech as a universal aspiration, group libel and the Skokie controversy.

“Freedom of speech seems to me the key to all other rights,” says Aryeh Neier, president of the Open Society Foundations. “If one can speak out about any abuse once has suffered, one always has the possibility of gaining certain relief or redress from any other kind of abuse” (30secs). Discussing group libel, Neier says he does not believe it should be an offence. The very concept of group defamation would greatly limit speech and constrain public debate (3mins 24secs). For Neier, the “best cure for bad speech is to promote more speech or greater access to opportunities for all to speak” (6mins 24secs). Reflecting on the Skokie case, in which, as executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, he defended the first amendment rights of a neo-Nazi group, Neier says the most memorable moment was going to the Illinois town and speaking at a synagogue with a audience that included Holocaust survivors (7mins 30secs). “It seemed to me the fact that I could speak freely in defence of freedom of speech meant the idea prevailed even if I wasn’t persuasive,” he says.

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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.

The University of Oxford