This debate will be in English and the event will take place as a Time to Talk and a Battle of Ideas international satellite event.
How free is free speech? The Czech Republic guarantees freedom of expression, but there are a growing number of exceptions in line with European trends: genocide denial or even questioning thereof; ‘hate’ speech directed at nations, races or minority groups; speech that might impinge on national security; individual rights; public health or morality. Then there is the ‘muzzle’ law of 2009, which prohibits the press from reporting on victims or perpetrators of criminal acts, unless a judge decides that it is in the public interest. In the UK, in the wake of phone-hacking scandals and the Leveson Report, journalists are arrested in dawn raids by police and the Labour party demand draconian levels of statutory press controls. Although the UK guarantees freedom of expression under Article 10 of the European Convention, the list of exceptions is as long as the arm of the law and includes sweeping categories such as insult, abuse, threats and behaviour likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress. There are laws (and prosecutions under them) for racist speech, incitement to hatred, glorifying terrorism and even reading so-called terrorist material like bomb manuals can lead to prosecution. The UK is also infamous for its harsh libel laws and bans on advertising prohibit articles such as tobacco being displayed for sale. In both countries, those are just the legal restrictions on free speech. The informal restrictions including self-censorship and political correctness run even deeper. Are restrictions on free speech a necessary and civilising curb on the abuse of power by vested interests (such as intolerant majorities or media moguls) or are they an unacceptable restriction on everyone’s freedom of expression? If there are to be limits then who should decide what they are: experts or the public, lawyers or politicians, minorities or majorities? Freedom of speech: who decides?
Dr. Roman Joch
Director of the Civic Institute and author of The Revolt against the Revolution of the Twentieth Century.
A former member of the Czech parliament and chairman of the Czech Green Party.
A co-director of the NY Salon and co-founder of London’s Truman Brewery, as well as a partner at the Argosy Pictures Film Company.
Dr. Tereza Stöckelová
A researcher at the Institute of Sociology of the Academy of Sciences in the Czech Republic and the editor-in-chief of the Czech Sociological Review (English edition).
Head of external relations at the Institute of Ideas, convenor of the Institute of Ideas’ Academy and author of the forthcoming book Being Cultured: in Defence of Discrimination.