Should there be a limit to artistic and journalistic freedom?
By Tony C. Lesesne
Recently, two recent tragic headline-grabbing events involved threats or outright attacks on media and entertainment institutions. This morning I was asked if there should be limits to artistic expression and journalistic freedoms. My answer is ABSOLUTELY, there should be limits.
As an executive working in media, entertainment and branding, I find myself at odds with my own answer, but as a father, community servant and mentor, my answer still stands. You see, ever since the 1915 film BIRTH OF A NATION was released; which ultimately launched the Ku Klux Klan, there have been debates about the merits of artistic and journalistic freedom has been waged. This film was one of the damaging tools ever used against Black people in America. It projected images of Blacks as lazy, slothful, beasts with no moral judgment or sense of discipline. The film turned legions of whites against the “Negro” and prompted the development of Jim Crow laws that was a new form of slavery. Blacks did not have the power, protection or guts to boycott the film.
Over the past few months, the troubling, and even horrifying examples of what can go wrong when politics, wayward governments and religious extremist deliver their responses to media and entertainment companies that produce images that offend them.
Freedom of speech is a precious element of our American society, but when those freedoms are exported by way of today’s instant news and the internet’s ability to deliver information in seconds to audiences around the globe, problems are bound to occur, and they may occur in deadly fashion such as was the case with the Sony film THE INTERVIEW and more deadly, the attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris.
The best way to combat freedom of speech or freedom of expression is to use violence, or the threat of violence. In the case of THE INTERVIEW, the threat of violence nearly shut down any opportunity for the Sony film top get distribution – yet it also galvanized audiences who want to do everything in their power to protect the freedom of artistic expression – so they watched on line and in select theaters. In the case of Charlie Hebdo- 12 people were killed for their satirical publication of the prophet Mohammed- a big no-no in the Muslim community.
I have always said that just because you CAN say or show something doesn’t mean you say it or show it. As extremists have proven, there are cases where what is said is so offensive to them that it is worth dying for. This is quite different than what abolitionists were writing in the effort to end slavery in the pre-civil war era. Even then, death threats were made against those that wrote articles demanding the end of slavery. In other words, when it comes to defense of human rights and freedoms, editorial, journalistic and artistic freedoms are essential and should have no limits. But when those freedoms are abused by humiliating others just for entertainment value – limits should be considered. If not, those who are most offended, who are also most extreme, have proven that they are willing to kill and die in retaliation to those said offenses. What do you think?