Freedom of speech goes south

Brian
Brian Jones
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Premier Danny Williams is definitely a leader made for the 21st century, an era that is reviving the divine right of kings, even if electors put them on their thrones.

Often, when Williams launches into a tirade against this or that foe, you have to wonder what is going through his mind. He is obviously smart and savvy, so why does he habitually throw fits that are the equivalent of a toddler's tantrum?

Premier Danny Williams is definitely a leader made for the 21st century, an era that is reviving the divine right of kings, even if electors put them on their thrones.

Often, when Williams launches into a tirade against this or that foe, you have to wonder what is going through his mind. He is obviously smart and savvy, so why does he habitually throw fits that are the equivalent of a toddler's tantrum?

The targets of his tongue are legion: Liberals, NDPers, doctors, judges, educators, prime ministers and even local Joes.

Political arguing and jousting is necessary in a democracy, but the premier's blitzkrieg approach to discourse is bizarre.

Perhaps he simply has a bad temper, as some have speculated.

Or maybe he is putting into practice the growing and widely held ethos that other people use their right to freedom of speech too much.

After all, when he is challenged, Williams' response often seems to convey the message, "How dare you disagree with me. How dare you oppose me. How dare you speak against me."

Common tactic

The premier is far from alone in this attitude, of course.

Some members of St. John's city council displayed it during the debate over Fortis's now-withdrawn proposal to build a 15-storey office tower on Water Street.

There were valid arguments in favour as well as against that proposal. But the weirdest and wackiest statements came out of city hall after the project was pulled, when it was suggested that opponents of the plan, by voicing their objections, might hurt the city's chances of attracting developers.

It is one thing to argue about the merits of a project.

It is quite another to suggest that, by speaking out, those on the "no" side of the debate will bring calamity and declining investment to the kingdom. The good councillors should stick to the issue, instead of lamenting that people are exercising their right to speak publicly against city hall.

Under attack

Everywhere you look, free speech is under attack.

University of Ottawa students staged a mini-riot in March when right-wing commentator Ann Coulter tried to speak on their campus. The right-wing federal government barred the border last year when left-wing British MP George Galloway tried to come to Canada to speak.

Journalists and even standup comedians have been hauled before so-called human rights tribunals for things they have written or said.

But the long, steady, swirling decline of freedom of speech became most ridiculous last week when the lives of Trey Parker and Matt Stone were threatened.

What did they do to warrant a death threat?

They wrote a cartoon TV show.

Not the usual suspects

Parker and Stone are the creators and writers of "South Park." A recent episode depicted various religious prophets as superheroes. Muhammad - who wore a bear suit, because images of him are supposedly not allowed - had a skill envied by all. His superpower? Anyone who criticized him could be threatened with death.

The show's satire and the irony of the death threat are probably utterly lost on the person who made it.

Allegedly, he is an Islamist living in ... not Tehran or Kandahar or Baghdad, but New York City.

The next episode of "South Park" also featured Muhammad, but was apparently heavily censored by Comedy Central, the network that carries the show.

Parker and Stone stated publicly that they didn't do the censoring - the network did.

The issue made headlines in such august journals as The New York Times and The Christian Science Monitor.

The widening loss of freedom of speech is no laughing matter, even - especially - when it comes to comedy and satire.

Brian Jones is a desk editor at The Telegram. He can be reached by e-mail at bjones@thetelegram.com

Organizations: University of Ottawa, Comedy Central, New York Times Christian Science Monitor The Telegram

Geographic location: St. John's, Water Street, Canada Tehran Kandahar Baghdad New York City

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Recent comments

  • Keith
    July 02, 2010 - 13:34

    Trey Parker and Matt Stone were never in any real danger. They are millionaires; they can afford effective protection. The people under threat were the everyday employees of Comedy Central, vulnerable to a detonating bomb or an assassination attempt. Parker and Stone can hardly be held up as heroes when they are not on the front lines.

    This is what's so vile about this particular brand of religious terrorism, best, though not solely, represented by Islamic extremists: they say if you exercise this freedom of yours, you are responsible for what happens to you or your colleagues. How cowardly; Comedy Central was made to feel as if it would be responsible for someone else's murder. How do we exercise our individual freedoms when we know doing so raises the risk of someone else paying the price? It is a question no one should have to answer, and it makes terrorism all the more cowardly and despicable as a result.

  • Corey
    July 02, 2010 - 13:26

    While we're at it, I despise egotists , why don't you tell us what you REALLY think of our Premier. For people who say they detest Danny, you sure don't mind talking about the guy every chance you get.

  • In Fawkes
    July 02, 2010 - 13:25

    No worries, soon enough government and religious leaders will provide us with what can and can not be stated either openly or in back-rooms.

    A great visionary once stated that The People Should Not Fear Government, It Is Government That Should Fear The People.
    Guy Fawkes (13 April 1570 31 January 1606)

    The sooner the people remember the reason this person was put to death for the sooner we will stand our ground and take back our rights and freedom.

  • Polly
    July 02, 2010 - 13:24

    There was a time when the only allowable form of free speech was through humour and satire . That is why there were court jesters . There is a humorous side to Williams and it can be very effective . His segment on 22 Minutes , styling Critch's hair was seriously funny . The premier is capable of self-deprecation and his timing is perfect . The problem is that Williams appears to use humour and satire to relate his humaneness .

  • I despise egoists
    July 02, 2010 - 13:16

    I'd rather not see a muzzle put on Sir Danny as some would espouse. Let him continue to expose himself for the person he is - an egotistical monocratic, often autocratic, despotic, my-way-or-the-highway despot who leans towards Macchiavillianism in his office environs. His spoiled kid infantile response to anyone who disagrees with him is that they are against Newfoundland and Labrador, they are incompetent, or some other bunk.
    Just like other self proclaimed heroes of the past, history will record the many good things he's done, but it will, like it did with Napoleon, also record his idiosyncracies and loose tongue.

    While I'm at it, I might as well ask him to stop saying that he doesn't take a salary. He most certainly does take a salary from the taxpayers' coffers. He does put in in with other tax break charities, of course, and that is indeed admirable (it would be moreso if wasn't weathy,) but the same cost comes from the finances of the province as if someone else was there. Just like Americans found themselves doing with the revelations of JFK's sins, NL'ers will eventually stop seeing this normal short tempered man as an icon and see him for what he is - someone who incidentally does well with some things, while the whole time feeding his need to be concieved as god-like.

  • Corey
    July 02, 2010 - 13:16

    Another week, another anti-Danny article. Whatever sells newspapers or riles up every Danny basher out there I guess. There must be more pressing issues to worry about I would imagine.

  • Politically Incorrect
    July 02, 2010 - 13:16

    I was unaware there was a *riot* in Ottawa. A demonstration perhaps, but not a riot. An other important point is that Coulter (who advocates carpet bombing Muslim countries) was allowed in while Galloway was (unlike in the United States) denied entry.

    By-the-way; what the %@*# is an Islamist???

  • amazed
    July 02, 2010 - 13:13

    This also goes along with Christians on facebook joining a group saying they want a group called F$%K Jesus Christ removed from facebook. While it is a very crude statement from those who are not holy or don't believe in God, Christians who join the group wanting the offensive group removed support censorship. That's wrong.

  • BI
    July 02, 2010 - 13:10

    Temper tantrums I definitely know about. I wouldn't call it freedom of speech either. I worked for 8 years for a Newfoundland family-owned business, which was pure hell on earth. The bosses son had tantrums every day, and he was a man of 40-45 at the time. He got so mad he turned red in the face and slammed doors. They couldn't keep anyone there to work for them. The doctor told me if I spent one more year there, I would never work again. Why do people treat humans like this. I would say that if Danny has tantrums, ask his employees if he directs it at them as well. He has to. Sometime soon someone will be suing these people for inhumane treatment of other human beings. They are just spoiled kids. It kills the wills of people they work for and is definitely verbal and mental abuse. Maybe Danny should check his mouth.

  • Keith
    July 01, 2010 - 20:23

    Trey Parker and Matt Stone were never in any real danger. They are millionaires; they can afford effective protection. The people under threat were the everyday employees of Comedy Central, vulnerable to a detonating bomb or an assassination attempt. Parker and Stone can hardly be held up as heroes when they are not on the front lines.

    This is what's so vile about this particular brand of religious terrorism, best, though not solely, represented by Islamic extremists: they say if you exercise this freedom of yours, you are responsible for what happens to you or your colleagues. How cowardly; Comedy Central was made to feel as if it would be responsible for someone else's murder. How do we exercise our individual freedoms when we know doing so raises the risk of someone else paying the price? It is a question no one should have to answer, and it makes terrorism all the more cowardly and despicable as a result.

  • Corey
    July 01, 2010 - 20:13

    While we're at it, I despise egotists , why don't you tell us what you REALLY think of our Premier. For people who say they detest Danny, you sure don't mind talking about the guy every chance you get.

  • In Fawkes
    July 01, 2010 - 20:12

    No worries, soon enough government and religious leaders will provide us with what can and can not be stated either openly or in back-rooms.

    A great visionary once stated that The People Should Not Fear Government, It Is Government That Should Fear The People.
    Guy Fawkes (13 April 1570 31 January 1606)

    The sooner the people remember the reason this person was put to death for the sooner we will stand our ground and take back our rights and freedom.

  • Polly
    July 01, 2010 - 20:10

    There was a time when the only allowable form of free speech was through humour and satire . That is why there were court jesters . There is a humorous side to Williams and it can be very effective . His segment on 22 Minutes , styling Critch's hair was seriously funny . The premier is capable of self-deprecation and his timing is perfect . The problem is that Williams appears to use humour and satire to relate his humaneness .

  • I despise egoists
    July 01, 2010 - 19:57

    I'd rather not see a muzzle put on Sir Danny as some would espouse. Let him continue to expose himself for the person he is - an egotistical monocratic, often autocratic, despotic, my-way-or-the-highway despot who leans towards Macchiavillianism in his office environs. His spoiled kid infantile response to anyone who disagrees with him is that they are against Newfoundland and Labrador, they are incompetent, or some other bunk.
    Just like other self proclaimed heroes of the past, history will record the many good things he's done, but it will, like it did with Napoleon, also record his idiosyncracies and loose tongue.

    While I'm at it, I might as well ask him to stop saying that he doesn't take a salary. He most certainly does take a salary from the taxpayers' coffers. He does put in in with other tax break charities, of course, and that is indeed admirable (it would be moreso if wasn't weathy,) but the same cost comes from the finances of the province as if someone else was there. Just like Americans found themselves doing with the revelations of JFK's sins, NL'ers will eventually stop seeing this normal short tempered man as an icon and see him for what he is - someone who incidentally does well with some things, while the whole time feeding his need to be concieved as god-like.

  • Corey
    July 01, 2010 - 19:56

    Another week, another anti-Danny article. Whatever sells newspapers or riles up every Danny basher out there I guess. There must be more pressing issues to worry about I would imagine.

  • Politically Incorrect
    July 01, 2010 - 19:56

    I was unaware there was a *riot* in Ottawa. A demonstration perhaps, but not a riot. An other important point is that Coulter (who advocates carpet bombing Muslim countries) was allowed in while Galloway was (unlike in the United States) denied entry.

    By-the-way; what the %@*# is an Islamist???

  • amazed
    July 01, 2010 - 19:50

    This also goes along with Christians on facebook joining a group saying they want a group called F$%K Jesus Christ removed from facebook. While it is a very crude statement from those who are not holy or don't believe in God, Christians who join the group wanting the offensive group removed support censorship. That's wrong.

  • BI
    July 01, 2010 - 19:46

    Temper tantrums I definitely know about. I wouldn't call it freedom of speech either. I worked for 8 years for a Newfoundland family-owned business, which was pure hell on earth. The bosses son had tantrums every day, and he was a man of 40-45 at the time. He got so mad he turned red in the face and slammed doors. They couldn't keep anyone there to work for them. The doctor told me if I spent one more year there, I would never work again. Why do people treat humans like this. I would say that if Danny has tantrums, ask his employees if he directs it at them as well. He has to. Sometime soon someone will be suing these people for inhumane treatment of other human beings. They are just spoiled kids. It kills the wills of people they work for and is definitely verbal and mental abuse. Maybe Danny should check his mouth.