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Media Freedoms and Media Standards

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In Tom Stoppard’s 1978 play Night and Day,1 Ruth Carlson, the wife of an expatriate copper mine manager, says to a young journalist: ‘I’m with you on the free press. It’s the newspapers I can’t stand.’ This ambivalence is still common. We stand by media freedom but are appalled by the results — and in the UK even more appalled today than we used to be before revelations about media phone hacking into private lives.


  • Medium Standard
  • Free Speech
  • Media Process
  • Intended Audience
  • Cultural Life

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  1. Tom Stoppard (1978) Night and Day (London: Faber and Faber).

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  2. For an assessment of the task of replacing assertion with argument, see Onora O’Neill (2005) ‘The Dark Side of Human Rights’, International Affairs, 81(2) 427–439.

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  3. Bernard Williams (2002) Truth and Truthfulness (Princeton N.J: Princeton University Press) 217. It is interesting, and rather surprising, that Mill makes this point in an aside in On Liberty: ‘The dictum that truth always triumphs over persecution is one of those pleasant falsehoods’.

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  4. John Stuart Mill (1859) ‘On Liberty’, in On Liberty and Other Writings, ed. Stefan Collini (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press) 30.

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  5. For a detailed account of the context and aftermath of the publication of the cartoons, see Jytte Klausen (2009) The Cartoons that Shook the World (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press). Statistics on deaths and injuries attributable to the publication of the cartoons are given on p. 107.

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  6. I put the term ‘offensive’ in scare quotes here because it has become a totem of liberal thought, as if offensiveness were the crucial case for freedom of expression. Yet a focus on offence often overlooks the range and variety of the harms that speech may cause, most of them nothing to do with offence. For a contrary view of the importance of protecting speech that others may find offensive, see Stefan Collini (2011) That’s Offensive! Criticism, Identity, Respect (Kolkata, London and New York: Seagull Press).

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  7. Immanuel Kant (1784) What is Enlightenment?, tr. Mary J. Gregor (1996) in Immanuel Kant, Practical Philosophy (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge) 8, 35–42 (page references to the standard pagination of the Prussian Academy edition of Kant’s works). Kant argued against unrestricted speech rights for office holders (i.e. those with power (military officers, clergy and civil servants are his examples)), but for free speech for those without institutional commitments who speak ‘to the world at large’.

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© 2013 Onora O’Neill

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O’Neill, O. (2013). Media Freedoms and Media Standards. In: Couldry, N., Madianou, M., Pinchevski, A. (eds) Ethics of Media. Palgrave Macmillan, London.

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