Freedom of Speech: When Books are Burned… [Bokmässan]

Freedom of Speech: When Books are Burned… [Bokmässan]

‘Bokmässan’ (The book fair) is the largest cultural event in Sweden. With more than 3000 programme events there is plenty to cover. Pirate Times covered part of the conference together with another 1300 journalists present at the conference.

‘The book fair’ is primarily aimed at authors from around the world. It’s a meeting place for many discussions around current events, trends and visions for the future. Next year marks the 250th anniversary of the ‘Swedish Freedom of the Press Act’. Thus, one of the focus areas for ‘the book fair’ this year was freedom of speech.

Pirate Times choose to cover the debate around freedom of speech primarily through following two panel debates. They were titled: ‘What is Freedom of Speech – For the citizen, the state and the market?’ and ‘Where they burn books they will soon also burn humans’. Both debates circled around similar topics and ideas.

freedom of speech is a right to say what you want not to be listened to

Freedom of speech is a right for someone to express their opinion. It is NOT a requirement for listening to it. There must also be room for changing your opinions from what you previously expressed. No opinions should be considered “final”.

Every freedom has to be balanced against another freedom. Freedom of speech is important but it is also a duty to uphold the truth.

We often believe we are neutral and objective but we always bring along values and preconceived notions. Freedom of speech is limited by common values of what is acceptable. This is not something that marginalized groups can decide, but they should not be overrun either. Groups should not be allowed to prevent individuals from using their free speech just because they don’t like the content.

The worst threat against freedom of speech is self-censorship. Being afraid of consequences for speaking your mind when it might be recorded digitally for a very long time is an example. Another threat towards freedom of speech is its potential commercialization. Genuine opinions are sometimes obfuscated by paid advertisement. We need to protect the ‘free word’ rather than the ‘paid word’.

In the debate around freedom of speech, libraries have an important role. They are a physical representation of our public space where those who visit should form the library. Libraries curate information. They have collections of books (where adding new ones is as important as removing old ones). The role of the library is not to have everything or to be ‘nice’. A library must be allowed to curate there collection and there must be space for it to contain bad and dangerous ideas as well as nice ones.

Limiting the freedom of speech for someone will create a very narrow and misleading world view.

Featured image: Niklas Maupoix, Copyrighted, used with permission
Image: Björn Ranelid, Copyrighted, used with permission