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Last Updated: Tuesday, 18 December 2007, 18:54 GMT
Multilingual debate: Free to speak
A man at a set of microphones

Should a person's right to free speech be protected if they ridicule religion, deny the Holocaust, use explicit language or are derogatory to a group of people?

Does stopping this mean that the person is denied their right to freedom of speech?

Should the media be free to report without state restrictions? Would you like to see a totally uncensored press?

BBC World Service broadcasts in 33 languages.

For the 75th anniversary season Free to Speak, BBC World Service audiences around the world have been discussing the topic: "Should everyone's right to free speech be protected, no matter what they say?" Here's a selection of what they have had to say:

"Nations and people do not progress without free thought"
Samer, Baghdad, Iraq

"Freedom of speech is less important than justice"
Lecio, Belo Horizonte, Brazil

"Mass media are considered "tools" in China"
Mr Liang, Beijing, China

"Nobody can be given the right to attack a nation's pride"
Siddharath, India

"Freedom should not cause insecurity"
Rauffi, Harat, Afghanistan

"Press freedom is one of the foundations of real democracy"
Victor Dubrovsky

"To express oneself freely can be extremely risky"
Julio Romero, Bogota, Colombia

"Everyone should be free to speak their mind"
Ayub Khan, Pakistan

"True freedom of speech is a myth"
John, Barbados


Nations and people do not progress without free thought and the freedom to criticise ideas. We are part of the human family and share with the world the same human values. We should be free to criticise anything that is an affront to humanity and the rights of human beings, no matter how sacred. As to belittling of individuals under the guise of freedom of speech, this is immoral and criminal.
Samer, Baghdad, Iraq

Freedom of expression is guaranteed to the powerful only. In my view, this freedom does not exist really. Take the latest Palestinian elections; we all went and expressed our views. What happened? Hamas won and the USA which claims to be democratic rejected those results.
Nassem, Gaza, Palestinian Territories

In Arab societies, the banning of things starts in childhood. The child is not empowered to challenge his parents' decisions. Women must not argue with their husbands. In Arab countries, journalists dare not criticise a corrupt official or discuss religious issues. As to the Holocaust, denying it could lead to wars as in Iraq.
Um Noh, Morocco

Freedom of expression is a God-given right and should be absolute. No one should curtail it, which is what some Muslim scholars do. Some of those taking part in this debate have said yes to freedom expression, but want to exempt religions from criticism. Why?
Hatem, Jordan


Freedom of speech is less important than justice. There is no justice in Brazil.
Lecio, Belo Horizonte, Brazil

There is freedom of speech in Brazil, but unfortunately that is limited by the lack of education. Most of the population do not know how to express themselves because they lack good education. Brazil's political model is based on a pseudodemocracy.
Heber Cunha, Pernambuco, Brazil

We Brazilians cannot make an open criticism of a politician or a judge. Nor can we walk freely in the areas dominated by drug traffickers.
Marcelo Cardoso, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

It is necessary to block messages with racist or pornographic content and the ones which incite one to commit a crime.
Roger Carl Emil Hoh, Mata de São João, Brazil


Mass media are considered "tools" in China and a lot of bad things are carried out under such a system. It's true that people can argue about trivial matters, but if the party's authority is threatened, they (the party) will "nip it in the bud". Dozens of journalists are languishing in Chinese jails; they are fearless, sacrificing freedom for press freedom. When can we have truly objective and fair reporting in our country? When can we have real democracy? Harmonious Society is pure propaganda - they are not really building up a harmonious society.
Mr Liang, Beijing, China

In China, because media serves as propaganda, it makes petition, democracy and other important issues too sensitive or even reporting taboos. But some trivial matters like the authenticity of a tiger picture become hot topics in our reports. So many Chinese people turn to learn the truth from foreign broadcasters like the BBC. Some people have been charged with subversion and put into jail only because they care about the political situation in China. I think freedom of speech doesn't mean you can say whatever you like, you do have restrictions. But our legal system can convict a citizen purely on what is said instead of what is done. In doing this, you are abusing people's freedom of speech.
Zhang, Hebei, China

I think negative stories can still have a positive effect. I've always felt that Party and Government departments overstate the negative effects of negative stories. In fact, I think these can have a very positive impact. This really mustn't be overlooked. I'll give you an example. Say someone has a boil. It may look fine on the outside, but unless you lance it, and let out the pus, it may rot from the inside.
Student, Guangzhou, China


Right of expression cannot be linked to freedom of expression. Nobody can be given the right to attack a nation's pride, show disregard for its interests, disregard society's interests and a fair judiciary. Statements which are discriminatory, provoke violence or are illegal should be kept out of the definition of freedom of expression. These fall in the realm of law and should be punishable according to law.
Siddharath Kausalayan, Greater Noida, India

Freedom of expression should be allowed up to a point. Your freedom is fine only until it doesn't hurt others' feelings. What kind of journalism allows the media to peep into the personal lives of people without permission for the sake of increasing the circulation of one's publication?
Sanjay Kumar, New Delhi, India

Media will have to be given freedom. However, media will also have to think seriously what this implies. Today, amongst Indians - media is rated very high. Just one misleading news can upset the cordial and harmonious relations between people. So media must report news independently while also keeping its responsibilities in mind. Only then will India's unity, integrity and harmony be maintained.
Rahul Shukla, Devariya, India

To question freedom of the media is to question a vital pillar of democracy. I don't think that peace and harmony in society can in any way be endangered by media. Media has made people aware. It has brought the ills of society to the fore. It has exposed politicians, bureaucrats and religious leaders. Some private channels are bringing media into disrepute to just gain an upper hand over their competitors. They shouldn't do anything that leads to fingers being pointed at media.
Sushil Pandey, Sasaram, India


Freedom of speech is an inseparable part of human's life and without it, it is not possible to improve and advance in life, provided that freedom does not mean insulting, ridiculing and defaming other people, as well as religion and the government. Freedom should not cause insecurity or misleading of the public opinion either. No one should be prosecuted because of expressing the truth.
Rauffi, Harat, Afghanistan

I am from the Baha'i religious minority in Iran and we cannot express our opinions because of being a Baha'i. Even when some school teachers express some lies about us and some students decided to object, they were expelled from school. Also, some of my friends who were offering voluntary services to poor children have been jailed only because Baha'i people are not allowed to talk to Muslims.
Babak, Shiraz, Iran

Freedom of speech exists only in the Western culture. Even in Western countries, those with more money have the means to convey their opinions to more people, whereas in Iran, you cannot even defend your obvious rights. We should not forget, though, that attributing all these problems in Iran to the Islamic government is wrong.
Arash, Marseille, France

Freedom is not compatible with restriction. We cannot say to people you are free except in some cases. The only exception is that one's freedom should not violate other person's freedom.
Shahab, Tehran, Iran


Press freedom is one of the foundations of real democracy, despite all its shortcomings. Without freedom of speech political parties will not be able to present their arguments to voters, while the powers-that-be will easily cover up their errors and crimes. Democracy cannot exist without real freedom of speech.
Victor Dubrovsky, St Petersburg, Russia

Restrictions should exist as far as violence and pornography are concerned. But as for politics, bribe-taking by government officials and other negative aspects of the regime, all this should be covered by the media. Journalistic investigations should be conducted. Stability and good standards of living are impossible without press freedom. In Russia TV channels are not free, while some freedom remains on the internet.
Fedor, St Petersburg, Russia

We don't need censorship. However many countries have punishment for insults and libel. As a citizen, a journalist should have the same rights and responsibilities as everyone else and should be held accountable for his/her actions. But in reality it turns out that when someone who is not a journalist is charged with libel, everyone keeps silent, but when a journalist is charged, immediately there is an uproar about the right to free speech being violated.
Yanichar, Baku, Azerbaijan

Should restrictions exist in media? Well, tabloids and extremist publications are the most democratic ones. Would you like media to be free of censorship? In our information age censorship has gone out of date, while media has turned into a tool for manipulating minds.
Valery, Kiev, Ukraine


In a country like mine, to express oneself freely can be extremely risky. Whatever one says, regardless of which group one represents or whom the words are addressed to, there will always be a group that doesn't like the comments. Many journalists have received death threats and have become targets of different political, military or guerrilla groups. This is very damaging for a democracy.
Julio Romero, Bogota, Colombia

One thing is the freedom to express ideas or views, which possibly exists in many countries. Another one, is the freedom to communicate those views in the media. As long as the media is in the hands of big corporations and serving the interests of economic groups, the truth will be a casualty. In the case of Venezuela, for example, there is freedom of expression, but outside of the country there is only one view of the country, the one that is conveniently pushed by world power groups.
José Briceno, Montreux, Venuzuela

I've lived in Norway and other European countries for more than 20 years. I am really surprised to see things similar to those that took place during dictatorial regimes in Latin America, in terms of what happens in the media, at the workplace and in the political system. We think Europe is "free and democratic", but this not so. There is a lot of control, if someone expresses an opinion that doesn't conform to the view considered acceptable, this person is sidelined and could lose his or her career.
Carmen, Oslo, Norway

When we express an opinion we must be sincere, truthful, honest, and pragmatic. As Pope John Paul II said, the truth must be expressed with respect and compassion towards those to whom it is addressed.
Jesus Pelaez, Miami, USA


Everyone should be free to speak their mind. But insulting someone's faith or religion falls outside of this freedom. There is no freedom in my country to speak one's mind. We are ruled by a dictator who can say and do what he wants, but if anyone speaks out against him, they are immediately labelled 'unpatriotic' and punished. Our dictator claims that he puts 'Pakistan first', and wants to see a blind, deaf and mute Pakistan.
Ayub Khan, Pakistan

Actually the media faces similar constraints in the West as well. Western media maybe be free but they still don't report unfavourably on their governments' policies, or on the deaths of their soldiers abroad. The holocaust has been enshrined and turned into an article of faith by most Western media institutions. The only difference between western and eastern media is probably their levels of professionalism.
Anwer Hussain, Pakistan

Freedom of expression does not give anyone the right to insult or criticise anyone's religion or nation. In Pakistan our freedom of expression has been usurped by a dictator. Now we have decrees instead of laws, and no-one has the courage to challenge these decrees. Only God can deliver us from this.
Parvez Baloch, Karachi, Pakistan

Freedom of expression is a basic right of every human being. But any attempts at insulting, criticising anyones religion will always be dangerous.
Mohammed Farzan Ahmed, Doha, Pakistan


True freedom of speech is a myth. Freedom of thought is a myth, we are programmed from birth by parents, in school, through the media to think and speak the way our masters want - be they parents, teachers, journalists, police, politicians.
John, Barbados

Freedom of speech, of expression and of the press should not even be an issue. To renounce this basic freedom is the same as giving up the idea of democracy itself, no matter what it is one says (excepting libel and false testimony).
JS, Milan, Italy

Freedom of speech does not allow one to yell "fire!" in a crowded theatre. Nor should it. Freedom of speech must be counterbalanced with the rights of every other citizen.
Matt T, USA

All out freedom is dangerous for anyone and anything. There have to be rules and limits to every kind of freedom - even the press. An unshackled press would be like a dictator that infringes on personal freedom, which is also every person's right.
Abdul Aziz Khattak, Bahrain

Viewpoints: Freedom of speech
09 Dec 07 |  World


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