Free speech is great, isn't it?

Aaron Stuckel
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As a journalist, there is nothing more important to me than the rights of free speech. No matter who you are, you have the right to hold your own beliefs and the right to express them. What an amazing concept! It’s hard to believe that there are people in the world who are not allowed to do this. Take the Russian punk band Pussy Riot, for example, who are facing seven years in prison for performing an anti-Putin ‘punk prayer’ in one of the country’s largest Catholic churches. The three members of the band have already serves five months in prison awaiting trial after the countries leader caught wind of the event. Can you imagine the amount of people who would be thrown in jail if Stephan Harper didn’t allow people to criticize him?

But with the rights of free speech comes some concern. The most recent killings occurring in the U.S. had a member of the racist hate group the Hammerskins open fire in a Sikh temple, killing six. The FBI had been monitoring the man due to his postings on anti-Semitic hate sites, but because of free speech laws, nothing could be done until it was to late.

But even still, free speech is easily the most important part of any democracy. It encourages thought about the world around you and forces you to become educated in order to form an opinion. But some people take for granted the right to free speech, and think not at all about expressing an uninformed viewpoint. The anonymity of the Internet makes this abuse of such a right all the more public, and people need to remember that anything they might say online will remain there forever. Even people who might write in to a local newspaper need to realize that a lot of their remarks will end up on a website. Take the U.S. police officer who, while on vacation in Calgary earlier this month, made a fool of himself in a letter to the Calgary Herald. Detailing the harrowing account of an encounter in a park where two men approached him with the simple question “Been to the Stampede yet?” the pair’s “very aggressive tone” had him “instinctively reaching for his handgun.” Nothing came of the matter. In fact, it has been suspected that the two ‘Nose Hill Gentleman’ were simply there to offer the man free tickets to the Stampede, sparking enormous amounts of mockery on social media (Yay! More free speech).

I recently stumbled upon what is perhaps the best website of all humankind, and I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to find it: moosejawforum.com. Have you seen this site? It’s amazing! Years ago, you would be hard-pressed to find someone on an Internet chat site who was from the same province as you, let along the same town. Now there’s websites devoted to a specific community and let’s the public express their own viewpoints on the concerns in their hometown.

Many of these posts revolve around stories I’ve written and I love seeing the responses from people, even if they go against what I’ve written. As someone who is stuck in an office all day writing these stories, it gets hard to believe people actually read your work. Knowing that what you are doing actually connects with people is an amazing feeling.

Reading the rants on this site is some of the best form of entertainment there is, and it helps people like me get a feeling on the attitudes of the community on which I report. The forum itself could be considered a rumour mill or even an informal complaint section, and though many might see this as a negative thing, at least it shows that the public is engaged in what is going on around them.

Though I’m sure the higher-ups in the Times-Herald and Transcontinental would appreciate these posts more if they were made on our own website (mjtimes.sk.ca), I can’t help but appreciate the fact that we are totally free to express our opinions. And hopefully, as the sparring continues on these forums, people will start/continue to become educated on what is going on around them. This can only lead to good things.

Organizations: FBI, Calgary Herald

Geographic location: U.S., Calgary

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