Freedom of speech, media limited in South America

Credit: Jessica Thurston/Art Editor Credit: Jessica Thurston/Art Editor
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Writing for a newspaper, it is fairly obvious that freedom of speech is something that is important to me. I like having the ability to have opinions and write about them without having to worry about whether I’ll get in trouble for what I believe. I sometimes take this freedom for granted, and it is difficult for me to wrap my head around the thought that people in other countries do not all share this same freedom; in fact, some countries are taking steps backward in regard to free speech.

Recently, leaders of several Latin American countries have taken steps to limit the freedom of speech and freedom of the press of their citizens. According to a Tribune-Review article, in Venezuela, Hugo Chavez removed the licenses of 32 private radio stations along with two television stations and is threatening to shut down even more for supposed “technical reasons.” The article also gives the example of President Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua, who wants to force all private media reporters to join a guild that is affiliated with his Sandinista Party, and of President Cristina Fernandez in Argentina, who is trying to increase the number of state-owned broadcasters while simultaneously decreasing the number of private ones.

These examples on their own would be disheartening enough — proof that in some countries, leaders are trying to minimize freedom of speech as much as possible. Freedom of speech is a vital component of any successful nation, because people must be able to challenge their government and must be able to make their wants and needs known, without fear of consequences. However, it is not just the limiting of freedom of speech in these countries that is something to question. What is even more worrisome is the motivation behind the decision to limit freedom.

Ortega’s push to have all private reporters join a guild affiliated with his own political party is the best example of the reasons behind the desire to limit freedom of speech in many Latin American countries — politics. By limiting what group media reporters can be affiliated with, Ortega now has the power to limit what they report about and what spin they give news topics. Even if the edict isn’t coming directly from Ortega — or any other president — he is still behind it. And this gives him direct control over what type of information every citizen of his country receives.

Freedom of speech is intended to give everyone the opportunity to speak up for what they believe in, not to feel like they have to conform to others’ beliefs, to gain support for an underdog of a cause by getting the word out. And there is no subject that needs freedom of speech more than politics. There will always be differing political opinions, and because of this, people will always want to express which one they believe is right — and should be able to do so. But it is not only the ability to have one’s own opinion that is important. In many South American countries, citizens are not happy with their governments and are trying to speak out against their leaders and stand up for what they want. Instead of listening and trying to make appropriate changes, however, South American leaders are trying to squash those unyielding voices so that they don’t have to change anything, so that the only news that is portrayed is good news.

In controlling the media, the South American governments can essentially have control over all aspects of these people’s lives. The government would be able to stop any reports of any dissenting political factions and would even be able to get the media to report false election results if they gained complete and total control. It’s a steep and slippery slope from limiting freedom of speech to taking it away completely, and neither action is the correct one for government leaders.

Instead of limiting the freedom of speech of their people, the leaders of South American countries should, instead, welcome it and work with their people instead of against them to help improve their country. People of dissenting beliefs surely have legitimate concerns and criticisms with the current government, both in South American countries and elsewhere. And only by listening to those concerns and criticisms will the country and the government be able to grow, rather than trying to maintain the status quo and becoming completely removed from the people they govern.

Although it is South American countries that are currently trying to limit freedoms of speech and the press, that does not mean that this lesson does not apply to other countries as well. All leaders should be reminded to really listen to their people and to keep in mind both what they think will be best for the people, as well as what the people want, when making decisions for their country.