zondag 7 oktober 2012

Amitav Ghosh on freedom of speech and the position of writers in the world

Amsterdam, 7 October 2012. Yesterday, I had the opportunity to speak for a while with the great Indian author Amitav Ghosh. There are some quotes I would like to share:

,,Freedom of expression is an issue, a profoundly serious problem. the way in which Rupert Murdoch singlehandedly changed the discourse in the English-speaking world, his impact on ideology and policy has been unbelievable. It's been very systematically done and has had an enormous effect on public opinion, a desastrous effect. His organisation has been at the side of climate-change denial. UK and the US are the countries which lead by far the climate change denial.  It's all lead by the media. The media are now so much controled by corporations, that's a very big problem.

For several generations we have been accustomed to speak about freedom of expression in relation to the state. The state is seen as the primary threat to freedom of speech. All laws are dedicated to this proposition. But look at what is actually the threat to freedom of speech. Corporations require a non-disclosure agreements, nobody in a corporation can speek. Automatically the great majority of people is muzzled. Unless we have very strong wissleblower protection, where is your freedom of speech? Secondly today, in India, democracy has become a proliferation of identity groups, which decide that people cannot speak about them. They are very effective. In Bombay the space for critique of certain parties is zero, they would be attacked - physically. It happens all the time. Here, in fact the state is the defender of freedom of speech. Addressing you to the state is a 20th century thing, we are now in a different time: the state is no longer the principal enemy of freedom of speech. The principal threat comes from non-state actors. How to deal with that - that is the issue! Put pressure on the state? Yes, but you have to start thinking about ways Human Rigths Watch or PEN can intervene, which they do not do. PEN still wants me to sign this or that, but that is not the issue anymore. They do not listen.

To my colleague-writers I say: you are fighting yesterdays war. Writers around the world will not say anything about religions. They are afraid, it has worked, the space for freedom of speech has shrunk. The horses left the stable. We are dealing with different kinds of threats, we don't know yet what to do, but we have to recognise the problem.
As a writer of today one feels much more alone than at any moment in the past. Absolutely alone. The internet is so much down your neck, you feel exposed and threatened. Internet and twitter are wonderful things, but they create an incredible pressure towards conformity. I never wanted to get involved in the new media, but I realised that it was inescapable. An imposter was tweeting in my name. And if you are being attacked you have to be able to defend yourself."

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