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Freedom Without A Net
By Mark London
January, 2007, 07:20

Although many constitutions allow for freedom of expression it's not simple.
F
reedom of Expression, Freedom of the Press, and Freedom of Speech are thorny subjects. Do these freedoms exist in today's world?
 
The FWO and IN have long been advocates of those freedoms. Most often freedom of the press and expression are, in North America, associated with the United States. However, there are many countries providing those rights in various degrees. With that said, The FWO/IN tempers our position on the subject by being adverse to expletives, bigotry, and idiocy.

So, if by our preferences to avoid swearing, racism, and stupidity there is a certain level of censorship occurring, it is done so for various reasons such as not to spread the above, not to encourage the above, and not to "educate" using the above forms of expression.

Is there a difference though between "freedom of the press" and "freedom of expression"?

Expression: The Oxford Dictionary defines the word as the action of expressing, the look on someone's face, a word or phrase expressing an idea. The American Heritage Dictionary defines it pretty much the same way as the act of expressing, conveying, or representing in words, art, music, or movement; a manifestation. Freedom is defined as the condition of being free of restraints.

Combining the two definitions of expression and freedom opens a Pandora's box of contemplation for writers and publishers alike. When the presses roll, spewing out news, opinions, weather, and general propaganda, regardless of country of origin, how far is acceptable usage of specific words to reflect the emotions or views of the writers?

Using the U.S. as an example, the First Amendment is still evolving and constantly being fine-tuned. It was argued by Justice Stewart: "That the First Amendment speaks separately of freedom of speech and freedom of the press is no constitutional accident, but an acknowledgement of the critical role played by the press in American society. The Constitution requires sensitivity to that role, and to the special needs of the press in performing it effectively."(1)

Chief Justice Burger wrote: "The Court has not yet squarely resolved whether the Press Clause confers upon the 'institutional press' any freedom from government restraint not enjoyed by all others." (1)

Since the words "sensitivity" and "restraint" are relative to any given situation and individual, the freedom under discussion, by default, is also relative. This leaves writers in a precarious position, not one filled with hard and fast legal safeguards, regarding the words they place on the page. Donald Trump and Rosie O'Donnell may believe they have the right to express their opinions but that is for discussion and lawsuits to determine.

Much of the "freedom" is becoming more and more dubious as large media conglomerates gobble up smaller outlets, concentrating their power under one umbrella. The writer is not only restricted in content accepted by media moguls who dominate the dissemination of information and knowledge via mass media to the general public, they can also be seriously punished in a variety of ways from legally to blackballing.

One only has to switch on CNN as an example of repetitive pounding of the same old rhetoric that influences millions based upon executive decisions of what should or should not be presented to the public. In Canada, specifically in Toronto, CNN is about to be cut from the channel line up. Is someone, somewhere beginning to understand that much of the freedom of expression, speech and press is actually driven by the audience and bottom line decision making that stomps on freedom? If you write it and no one reads it you still have your freedom, your expression and your rights, but no impact.

This is something that writers need to bear in mind. The adage "write for yourself, not your audience" is fine. It is one of many lessons needed to learn the art of writing. However, if you want to make a living and become a professional writer bear in mind two important points. One, is that you're not necessarily legally protected regarding the words you write and someone disseminates, and two, the audience is important since it is rapidly becoming controlled by centralized media outlets.

There are profound changes that are occurring at this very moment that greatly, and adversely, affect basic democratic rights in many countries to speak, write, and be heard. With the combined concentration of the media and the increase in national security, a wary, well-informed writer, armed with a lawyer is one who will safely navigate through the growing quagmire of freedom. So, if in doubt, ask a lawyer first.

(1) http://supreme.lp.findlaw.com/constitution/amendment01/08.html#f32

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Mark London is a Toronto based freelance writer and associate editor of IN who has been with the FWO-Int'l from the early years volunteering much of his time in assisting young writers' careers. Email : talktome@canoemail.com


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