‘The question of free speech in our current COVID climate is something that begs revisiting, particularly since there have been enough recent incidents on the global stage that have appeared to diminish the potency of that freedom.
I believe most people generally hold to the value of freedom of opinion and that the majority of us, likewise, endorse the freedom to actually express that opinion. Being a Canadian, I draw first from the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, specifically the assurance provided therein that every person has the fundamental freedom of “thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication” (Section 2). Furthermore, Section 24 of the same Charter assures us of the freedom to pursue legal courses of action if any of these freedoms are “infringed or denied” in any way.
Similarly, the First Amendment of the US Constitution clearly holds that “abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press” is a violation of constitutional rights. As a general proclamation, the Constitution specifically “guarantees freedom of expression by prohibiting Congress from restricting the press or the rights of individuals to speak freely” (Legal Information Institute of Cornell Law School).
Unsurprisingly, if we look to our Atlantic neighbors in the United Kingdom we find an identical spirit of embraced freedoms carried over from the European Convention on Human Rights, not the least of which is the “right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion,” as well as “the right to freedom of expression” (The UK Constitution / House of Commons).
Furthermore, Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights outlines that “everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression.” This includes “the freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers” (United Nations).
While we could easily draw further confirmations of similarly-held values across our shared planet, I think we get the point. Plainly speaking, those of us who subscribe to a healthy standard of civilization that is rooted in the highest ideals of Democracy tend to take issue with any person, agency or policy that either infringes or outright prohibits our freedom to speak our mind and share our perspectives.
Many of these constitutions do include some form of exemplary clause, however, which is intended to safeguard against any potential harms that may arise from such freedoms. Hate speech, in particular, tends to be the most obvious example in this regard. It is also understood that the US Constitution, by way of example, discourages any form of expressed opinion which may incite “imminent lawless action” (Walker, 2018, p.1). Naturally, we would consider these to be sensible and preventative aspects of any constitution – the lack of which could arguably result in some pretty disastrous outcomes.
With these things in mind, I think it’s worth revisiting the way in which freedom of speech may be at risk of being undermined in light of our current global pandemic. Specifically speaking, I’m referring to the emerging controversy surrounding alternative views of COVID-19 itself.
While my aim here is not to necessarily promote any particular viewpoint regarding the questionable origins of COVID-19, I do take serious issue with the way in which such viewpoints (as espoused by many individuals in the world) has been vilified, discouraged and ultimately forbidden on various social media platforms and online video sharing services. Not only that, I find it equally if not more disturbing that such censorship is being partnered with initiatives to replace such expressions with deliberate exposure to more culturally and corporate-approved perspectives.
For example, a lot of attention has recently been placed on a recent episode of London Real, which is a popular video podcast series hosted by Brian Rose. On April 6th, Rose interviewed veteran conspiracy researcher David Icke, only to have YouTube pull the episode very soon afterwards – purportedly as a result of Icke’s comments linking COVID-19 with the rollout of 5G technology. UK’s Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden reportedly placed pressure on Ofcom (the British communications regulator) to investigate and address the content which aired on that particular night. Dowden himself is quoted as referring to Icke’s comments in the interview as “lunatic conspiracy theories,” and that “no sensible person would give them a moment’s thought” (Metro News UK, April 9, 2020).’