What is the definition of “fearless speech?”

10 Jan

It was French Philosopher Michel Foucault that translated the Greek term parrhesia to mean “free speech” in English in fall of 1983 at the University of California – Berkeley. Parrhesia was defined as a verb under five circumstances that include: the speaker presenting truth through frankness; relating to their own experiences of danger in their lives; being able to view criticism as inevitable whether being of others or self; and being committed to moral law through freedom and duty. Journalists hold much of these elements to be under their code of ethics, by having the responsibility of conducting civic-duty reporting.

Roth and Huff elaborate on Foucault’s suggestion that “free speech” can also be conceived as fearless speech, in that journalists often have “the courage to speak the truth in spite of some danger.” Fearless speech seems to have a balanced formula behind its concept, especially when applying it from a journalistic perspective. Criticism is a characteristic of fearless speech, yet only when the journalist sets their personal views aside, they are able to critique indiscriminately. Then there are humanistic stories that emotionally move readers, proving that not all negative news needs a journalist’s full attention and encourages affirmation.

The creation of news stories about history, change, hope and relativity, makes affirmative truth-telling part of the anatomy of fearless speech, as explained by Foucault. The reader is interested in news stories about power abuse and exploitation, but just as equally important are stories of human activity, relationships and institutions seen in a positive light. Readers who examine a news story, and choose to question, “Why is this important?” or “Why are you surprised?” might share the belief in conspiracy theories, according to the New York Times and analyst Maggie Koerth-Baker. Maggie Koerth-Baker’s findings concluded that conspiracy theorists lack self-worth and powerlessness and might choose to participate in this extreme form of cynicism.

Yet cynicism can be viewed as a form of rebellion from the distractions of the truth. As contrasted by historian Kathryn Olmsted, ”Conspiracy theories wouldn’t exist in a world in which real conspiracies didn’t exist.” The question is not why a psycho-analyzed audience believes news stories to consist of conspiracy theories, but why does corporate news mute fearless speech reporting. Stories such as the failure of corporate media’s acknowledgement of Bradley Manning, the globe’s richest one percent hiding trillions of dollars overseas to evade taxes and the spread of hate groups’ rapidly growing in the U.S. have all been left in the dark, thus creating censorship. The press has been censoring stories since the early 1900’s.

George Seldes’ affirmative truth-seeking depiction of WWI didn’t sit well with U.S. military officials, and was silenced after the Armistice was officially signed. Immigration news stories cover logistics, but fail to inform citizens on the human rights abuses due to the U.S. Border Patrol and the reasons why migrants are crossing the border, unemployment. In August 2012, a Gallup poll indicated 18.2 percent of Americans were starving once a year due to insufficient funds, and yet Congress considered ending the SNAP program which provided food stamps for the its citizens that same year. These stories of censorship are exactly why the public can be skeptical and become “conspiracy theorists.”

A journalist’s job is to inform the public and seek the truth under a code of ethics, but the press has proven to be manipulative at times on just what type of information the public should be aware of. Freedom of speech is defined by Foucault as “to say everything,” but with media censorship thriving, shouldn’t we be defining the word “everything?”

Sources

Photo: ABC News

Censored 2014: Fearless Speech in Fateful Times by Mickey Huff & Andy Lee Roth (pg. 25-33; 41 -64)

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