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Freedom of expression: how free should it be?

45 minutes
First broadcast:
Saturday 14 January 2012

How far should we be free to express ourselves? Timothy Garton Ash is launching a free speech initiative at Oxford University. He tells us why he thinks we should aspire to a world with no taboos. Fawaz Gerges, Middle Eastern Politics Professor of the LSE, explores the role that the will to be free is having in the Arab Spring. And internationally acclaimed pianist Jonathan Biss makes the case for Beethoven as a fiercely independent musical rebel.

Illustration be Emily Kasriel: Liberating expressions and taboos in speech and music.


3 items
  • Timothy Garton Ash

    Timothy Garton Ash

    Oxford Professor of European Studies Timothy Garton Ash is launching a Free Speech initiative and argues that we should accept no legal limits on the dissemination of knowledge: from genocide denial to images of the prophet Mohammed, all should be open to free but civilised debate.

  • The ten draft principles for global free expression proposed by the Free Speech Debate project

    The ten draft principles for global free expression proposed by the Free Speech Debate project at Oxford University are:


    1 We - all human beings - must be free and able to express ourselves, and to receive and impart information and ideas, regardless of frontiers.

    2 We defend the internet and all other forms of communication against illegitimate encroachments by both public and private powers.

    3 We require and create open, diverse media so we can make well-informed decisions and participate fully in political life.

    4 We speak openly and with civility about all kinds of human difference.

    5 We allow no taboos in the discussion and dissemination of knowledge.

    6 We neither make threats of violence nor accept violent intimidation.

    7 We respect the believer but not necessarily the content of the belief.

    8 We are all entitled to a private life but should accept such scrutiny as is in the public interest.

    9 We should be able to counter slurs on our reputations without stifling legitimate debate.

    10 We must be free to challenge all limits to free expression justified on such grounds as national security, public order and morality.

    You can join the debate by clicking on the web link at the top of this page in the related links section.

  • Fawaz Gerges

    Fawaz Gerges

    Lebanese-born Fawaz Gerges, Professor of Middle Eastern Politics at the London School of Economics, speaks to us from Beirut. He argues that a desire for free expression lies at the very heart of the current revolutions in the Arab world.

  • Jonathan Biss

    Jonathan Biss

    Internationally acclaimed pianist Jonathan Biss has recently begun recording Beethoven’s 32 piano sonatas. Returning to this musical great has allowed Jonathan to see the great composer as a fiercely independent person who bucked the conventions and constraints of his age in the pursuit of his own musical vision.

  • Sixty Second Idea to Change the World

    Award winning author, Professor Timothy Garton Ash, says that every person should be assigned a ‘digital cousin’ from the other end of the world at birth, a pen pal for the digital era. If you are in Lagos, perhaps someone from Melbourne, in Toronto, maybe someone from Shanghai. Through the wonders of modern technology, where 4 billion people are already connected online or through mobile phone, we can share experiences, music, art and gain a completely different perspective on life.

  • In Next Week’s Programme

    Desire and how much we can control it. With Cote D’Ivoire-born artist Veronique Tadjo, Cleo Van Velsen, Consultant Psychiatrist in Forensic Psychotherapy, and Professor of Psychology Roy Baumeister who reveals that we spend a quarter of our waking hours resisting temptation…


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