Bogside Artists Derry on Freedom of Speech

TPQ carries a piece by the Bogside Artists Derry on Freedom of Speech.

Freedom of Speech: Bogside Artists Derry

This topic for discussion is of the greatest importance to us all, not just here but everywhere. Some common sense may help us see clearly what it is about.

Freedom of speech or expression is the foundation of democracy. Freedom of speech is your VOTE for which millions have died. One Man One Vote is the focal point of our Civil Rights mural.

In a totalitarian dictatorship like you have in North Korea your vote does not amount to much as the parties are under the rule of the dictator and his cronies: candidates for office are chosen for their uncritical subservience to the monarchy headed by Kim Jong-un. Dissidents are put in labour camps. We call this FASCISM, even if everything in North Korea is state owned and state run.

"A society in which provocative speech could be punished would be a society without controversial politics, or art, or ideas. It would be a society in which citizens feared expressing dissident thoughts. .... A desire to shield a government from criticism can never justify limitations on free speech." ((Ben Wizner director of American Civil Liberties Project).

After centuries of philosophical speculation the rights of man were distilled in the Universal Declaration of Rights (United Nations 1947).

Article 19 is still the guiding light for freedom of expression in most 'democratic' countries. It states:

"Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers."

And where is Julian Assange these days?, you may ask. Who is going to remind you?

In the US, freedom of speech is determined by where you are and who you work for, or what school you attend. In other words, there isn't any.

Consider the following...

"Free speech ends at any arbitrary line Congress draws "in the public interest," as it defines that. In Florida an 86-year-old grandmother was handcuffed and jailed for mouthing off to an over-zealous airport baggage inspector, "What do you think I have in there, a bomb?" 

Or how about this?

"Local governments and institutions, universities especially, elevated the censorship of political correctness into law or rules. They dictate that speech which might possibly hurt someone's feelings, or be taken as insulting, is grounds for fining or firing or expulsion. "That's a Jap car" rather than "That's a Japanese car" will bring quick reprisal in academia especially. No one need actually BE insulted. The mere words trigger penalties."

What does that imply? Somebody has decreed that words have independent meanings apart from the intent or meanings imparted to them by the person who expresses them. How handy is that if you want to shut somebody up? A throw-away line can get you locked up or your career left in ruins.

The reason we drag America into the argument is because the system of consolidating and controlling power being forged over there is to be the model for the New World Order. And if you think that is magic dragon 'conspiracy theory' you are among the beguiled.

Most of you have seen our banner on the topic easily visible from Rossville Street. We are blessed we are able to say what it says. How long do you suppose it would be allowed to hang in The Washington Mall? That said, there are moves afoot to remove it.

Our View

Enforced self-censorship under threat of punishment real or imaginary is Mind Control. Now, what sort of restrictions are we to impose on those who seek to control our minds and hence our freedom of expression since without freedom of thought you cannot possibly have freedom of expression? You cannot express what you do not have to express, can you?

And if you think this does not concern you personally you should take a look a closer look at your children's education and how passive and uncritical they have become especially when around their computers.

And what does that make of Article 19 that is meant to protect us from all of that?

We, the Bogside Artists take the view that if there are any restrictions on freedom of speech they should be applied exclusively to those with political or media power, those, in other words, who have a vested control in influencing the masses and have at their disposal the means thereto; those who act on behalf of the rich and powerful, whether they know it or not, and do not give a fig for your rights so long as their bank roll grows in mathematical proportion to their crimes against humanity. Their responsibility in this regard far exceeds that of the ordinary person.

Where would your Blairs and Camerons, your Kissingers, Putins and Cheneys, Bushs and Obamas, your Imams and Ayatollahs be, if the restrictions of freedom of thought and speech that they seek to impose on others were imposed on them? If we took their words indeed to mean what we decide they mean, and not even what they intended?

We may not like what you say and on occasion have deleted commentaries on our wall we deem to be hate-driven and demonic on a par with nut crying "fire!" in a crowded cinema just to see what might happen. Valid satire and argument we are obligated, as artists, to protect and will continue to do so. Nobody has the right not to be offended by what you say but do not be surprised if they will not buy it. That is why you have delete buttons on your Facebook, emails and Twitter.

However offended others may be your RIGHT to have your say should NEVER be held in question nor threatened by anyone.

“What is freedom of expression?” asks author Salman Rushdie. “Without the freedom to offend, it ceases to exist.”


  1. A timely article with the week that's in it. Who in their right minds would seek to limit freedom of expression eh? Answers on a postcard to Flash McVeigh and the Queen's Own Shinners c/o Windsor House, 147 Andersonstown Road, Belfast

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Thanks Frankie,

    hopefully sorted now

  4. A tough nut to crack.

    Certainly there should be a rite to the freedom of expression, that said you are right when you say, we can impose self censorship.

    World powers are policing the web, media and all forms of communicating information. Not to forget how individuals or collectives who can at times, lots of times, express views that are truly offensive, not to forget hurtful. Or those that espouse an opposing product, that does not correspond with western,eastern or any other doctrine in any other area of this planet. Whomever is in control of their particular area, makes the rules on the basis of what suits them. Of course these are the ruling classes, all others are the ruled class. No doubt the house rules for the ruled, would be applied through what those that apply the rules call, the justice system but the reality for many, such as those families of all the victims of a murder rampage by trigger happy occupying forces in ballymurphy. This goes for everybody that has been a victim of violence on this planet. These people have had the experience of falling victim to the paradoxe spectre of the injustice system, whereupon it would be reasonable to say. Forget justice, forget truth.

    We have freedom of expression as long as it does not challenge the status-quo/Established state of being.

    Look at Michael Henry. He was on more than one occasion, deeply offensive in some of his comments. Did he say anything that challenged the state?, no. Did he put forward some appalling remarks about, victims of suicide, Paul Quinn and others. Yes but his sanction will be, his own conscience, depending, on how far that actually develops and maybe he would face the justice of a switched on electorate.

    The reality is there are people like MH out there me included when at times we lack the the necessary filters when communicating with others and befall of cybertourettes. This can manifest itself to different degrees, depending on ones own awareness when using the web.
    What should be,wont be. There will be no freedom of expression but always be a freedom of thought.
    If you dare. That again is the reality of what we have.

  5. feeltelove
    great word man!