9 آبان 1392

Insult vs. free speech: vague or clear border

31 October 2013

Translated by:Mehrdad Safa

Khabarnegaran.info-Sara Mohseni:Does a clear border exist between free speech and insult in journalism? This question has been asked over and over again in different times and places, drawing different answers. Some believe that no limit shall be placed on the freedom of speech, which serves as a solid foundation for democracy. Others argue that certain limits must be set, otherwise the society would descend into chaos.

The satirical articles and cartoons published in Persian news sites during the past days have once again stirred up this controversy. In the meantime, a Danish-Iranian female writer was charged with creating religious hatred last week for writing an article in a Danish newspaper. She was sentenced to pay $900 in fines or a five-day imprisonment.

We are here to ask a few Iranian journalists and cartoonist about their opinions on the possible borders of the freedom of speech.

‘Iranian society norms must outweigh’

“The extent of the freedom of speech is determined either by norms or laws,” says Iranian journalist Mehdi Jami, who lives in the Netherlands and has worked as editor-in-chief of several news websites. The dispersion of Iranian journalists all over the world, he believes, has given rise to the chaotic situation of speech freedom. “With such a variety of conventions and laws, the domestic norms governing the Iranian society shall outweigh those governing the diaspora of journalists abroad,” Jami believes.

“The religious, social and ethnical sensitivities of people must not be offended, and in case they are offended, we have to stop media hype from turning into social tensions,” he explains.

‘Discretionary personal ethics are the limits’

“The only limits to the freedom of speech is the code of ethics, slandering, defaming and inciting hatred,” says Paris-based Iranian journalist Arash Bahmani, who writes for Rooz Online news website. “What I mean by the code of ethics,” Bahmani tries to explain, “is not the ethical standards imposed by the state, but rather a type of discretionary personal ethics that may not apply to other people.” He stresses that ethics are the principles defined by the inner part of a journalist and does not have anything to do with the theoretical concepts of the philosophy of ethics.

‘Even democratic states limit free speech’: Iranian journalist

“The limits of the freedom of speech is a controversial topic. A somehow clear consensus, however, exists over the necessity of setting certain limits on the freedom of speech,” says Iranian journalist Naimeh Doustdar, who resides in Sweden and writes for Radio Zamaneh website.

“Even the most democratic states, including Sweden and the US, have put limits on the freedom of speech,” Doustdar stresses. She also confirms that the freedom of speech must not result in inciting hatred or threatening public interests.

Nobody can ‘brake my exploration’: Iranian cartoonist

Iranian cartoonist Nikahang Kosar has been frequently criticized for both his articles and cartoons published in his news website Khodnevis. Many take his works as insults and slurs. “I’m an explorer, and others can’t be a brake on my exploration. They criticize me for including political figures in my satires and spoofs. Why shouldn’t I? They say that it’s indecent. Isn’t what many politicians do really indecent?” Kosar says.

“Showing the wickedness of what politicians or other indecencies may not seem ethical in the eyes of some people. A look at leading cartoons and satires in foreign societies, on the other hand, proves the contrary to me,” he explains.

“Just take a look at British satirical cartoons in the Guardian. See the works of Gerald Scarfe and Ralph Steadman for example. Take a look at David Levin’s cartoon showing Kissinger making love with the globe,” he brings foreign examples to justify his works.

‘No clear border for insult’

If a border exists between the freedom of speech and insult, who will define this border?

“There are limits to the freedom of speech in every country, whether imposed by the government or resulted from historical developments. In some countries, slandering is permitted as a part of the freedom of speech, while it is not in some others,” says Bahmani.

Determining what is insulting, Bahmani believes, is directly related to the norms of a society. “What in one country seems insulting or rude, may seem completely appropriate in another.”

The questions remain mostly unanswered though. What are the borders of the freedom of speech? To what extent are journalists free to express their thoughts? Is there any need for red lines at all? Such controversial questions may never have definite, consensual answers by journalists.

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