Travelling around Europe always reminds me of how lucky I am to live in a Western nation. Sometimes the beauty and history of a city like Paris can make us feel small, but it should also make us feel powerful. Our fellow man built these buildings, wrote the novels that inspire the world and formed a republic on the foundations of freedom, equality before the law and a vote for all citizens.
Democracy is a gift that, as an Australian, I often take for granted. The very act of having an opinion, writing it down and sharing it with you is a privilege that many have fought and died for. In some parts of the world men and women are still persecuted for exercising this privilege, or so afraid to speak out that the very notion of openly thinking for oneself is foreign.
My Twitter timeline is filled with opinions. I love it. Sometimes they make me angry, but I still respect their right to have a differing opinion to my own (unless of course they are a Collingwood supporter, in which case I immediately unfollow).
My local Waterstones is filled with books and magazines that have the potential to offend me immensely, particularly some sexist literature arguing that my brain or capabilities are inferior because of my gender. But there are also publications that have the potential to inspire, thrill, educate and entertain me. I purchase the latter.
The price of freedom of expression is that you are inevitably going to disagree on what is appropriate and inappropriate to broadcast. I was deeply concerned when a socialist magazine ‘Red Flag’ published an image with the prime minister’s throat threatened with a knife and I am consistently offended by anti-semitic cartoons on behalf of my Jewish friends.
In these instances I use my freedom of expression to criticize. The free-market will also ensure that if enough consumers are offended or morally in disagreement with a publication then it must evolve in order to protect profits. I like this system. I admire the men and women (such as Thomas Paine) who fought for our right to criticize authority, regimes, dictators and religions. No group of people or organisation should be immune to criticism – this is such a fundamental foundation of democracy.
Am I Charlie? Not yet. I haven’t had the courage to truly broadcast my opinions in quite the same way. Maybe one day I will go too far with commentary, or criticize too strongly. Someone is bound to be offended or disagree with statements made in this article.
The alternative to freedom of expression is a step backwards in the evolution of democracy. As the Algerian philosopher Albert Camus once noted: “A free press can, of course, be good or bad, but, most certainly without freedom, the press will never be anything but bad.”