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Freedom vs Security

Once again, the competing discourses of freedom of expression and national security are in play, as Monroe Price discusses in the context of global media policy

Freedom vs Security

The cruel shadow of terrorism is affecting, often in substantial ways, the practices and relationships of governments to telecoms, media companies and internet service providers. Surveillance, takedown requests, demands for counter narratives, and concerns about cybersecurity are among the categories for vastly enhanced activities. As all of this intensifies in states throughout the world, it is important to find ways to gain perspective. A clue can be found in one of the characteristics of modern debate: the always accompanying demand for respect for human rights and, particularly, adherence to principles of freedom of expression. The result is a tricky dynamic interweaving two discourses – the discourse of security and the discourse of free expression and human rights. Watching how these discourses interact, what emphases occur, and what is embraced in law becomes a key to understanding future developments.

The eloquent former governor of New York, Mario Cuomo, once said, quite brilliantly: “We campaign in poetry, but we govern in prose.” I want to adapt that insight for the communications field: “We dream in the poetry of freedom of expression, but we often are governed or operate according to a regimen of national security.”

The intersection of these ways of thinking and framing is hardly new. The search for maintaining a free and independent media for a society of active and informed citizens has always had a national security related edge to it. Depending on the state, the national security aspect has often been at the very centre, while in other contexts or other times, sometime more towards the margin. Companies and governments, civil society groups and scholars all have to evaluate trends, for example that emphasise safety and stability. Assertions of sovereignty, as well, increasingly shape elements of communication policies.

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