by Chloe Westley, Campaign Manager
The freedom to question and criticise the government is essential for any free and democratic society. Journalists and ordinary citizens should absolutely have the right to hold those in elected office accountable for their actions. In the United Kingdom, the media and journalists are free to investigate and criticise those in power, and citizens are free to express their approval (or otherwise) of the decisions made by the government.
We also benefit from the free exchange of ideas. Lively debate and discussion is the sign of a healthy democracy. Even when we are sure of our own opinion, it is beneficial for us to also hear the opposing side. As John Stuart Mill wrote in his essay ‘On Liberty':
“He who knows only his own side of the case, knows little of that. His reasons may be good, and no one may have been able to refute them. But if he is equally unable to refute the reasons on the opposite side; if he does not so much as know what they are, he has no ground for preferring either opinion.”
In the West we sometimes take our freedom of speech, and the freedom of the press, for granted. It can be easy to assume that every other society has the same freedoms as ours, but that is simply not the case.
Socialist and communist countries generally do not allow for the free exchange of ideas. Ideologically, these political doctrines do not respect the rights of the individual, as the collective is held supreme. Forgoing individual freedom is the price to pay for a socialist society, and the default is strict censorship.
When the Communists seized power in Russia at the turn of the 20th century, one of their first acts was to introduce harsh censorship. Radio, newspapers, television, films, poetry, cinema; all were censored by state departments and only those in strict alignment with the values of the Communist Party were permitted.
Today in socialist Venezuela, political dissidents and journalists live in fear. A new law introduced by Nicolas Maduro (entitled the ‘Law Against Hatred’) dictates that those who are accused of ‘promoting fascism, hatred, and intolerance’ be imprisoned for up to 20 years. Of course, it is the state who decides what is considered ‘hateful’ or ‘intolerant’, so the definition can be broadly applied to anyone who criticises the Maduro regime. According to the National Union of Workers of the Press of Venezuela, 115 media outlets have been closed down since 2013.
In communist North Korea, all media outlets and messaging is controlled by the North Korean government. All journalists must join the ‘Workers’ Party of Korea’ and commit to reporting only communist propaganda, which paints their supreme leader in a positive light. The World Press Freedom Index ranks the communist state of North Korea as the least free country in the world.
Closer to home, Jeremy Corbyn raised alarm bells when he warned the British press that ‘change is coming’ in a video address. Coming from a far left politician who has expressed admiration for Maduro’s socialist regime in Venezuela, this concerned many journalists in Britain.
Instead of allowing for the free exchange of ideas, and welcoming criticism from the media, communist and socialist regimes instead impose strict censorship. They justify doing so by claiming to work in the interests of the collective, but really this is about the consolidation of power. By stamping out all political dissidents, and making citizens fearful of merely questioning the wisdom of the state, communist and socialist regimes can seize control of all decision making powers, without any scrutiny.