Free speech, hate speech


Hope Eghagha
Any organisation, body or society which regulates what can be said and what cannot be said will ultimately collapse and go into oblivion. Free speech is inherent in man. If we remember that thoughts are free and that for man to blossom such thoughts should be given expression, we would then appreciate the need to allow citizens to freely express themselves. The greatest innovations which mankind has experienced were not developed in locked societies or in societies where people were prevented from free thinking. Free speech is the capacity to freely express ideas which one holds with a view to being heard for whatever reasons. It is true that some people hold very dangerous views. Dangerous in the sense that the views are myopic, destructive or inflammatory and threatening to the ideals of mutual respect. It is for this reason that governments through legislative acts have tried to regulate free speech.
Hate speech is any expressed idea that deny the need for mutual coexistence. It is defined as ‘abusive or threatening speech or writing that expresses prejudice against a particular group, especially on the basis of race, religion, ethnicity or sexual orientation’. Hate speech comes in different forms. Any speech which denigrates a group or a sub-group, or a nation, an organisation or a movement is considered to be hate speech. Hate speeches usually do not recognise the niceties of mutual coexistence. They are one-sided and are often the product of ignorance or refusal to see the other side of things. For example, a speech which fans the embers of ethnic disunity is hate speech. Leaders, political and social, are particularly advised not to express hatred because of their position. Anyone who preaches that he is born to rule the other is simply instigating disaffection and hatred. Fake news is also a kind of hate speech!
Free speech carries a responsibility. It assumes that the speaker is conscious of whatever effects his speech could have. Often, the political, religious or cultural position of the speaker or writer adds weight to how the speech is received. The voice of an Emir or Oba or Pastor carries more weight than the voice of a private citizen. If an idea emanates from such a person, people reason, then it must be taken seriously. In the days when newspapers were the widely accepted medium of expression, it was easier to regulate what people read. The laws of libel were developed to protect persons or institutions that can be maligned through provocative and libellous statements. We have entered a new era where news has been redefined. These days, we do not depend on the regular reporters or news media to hear the news of the day.