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Rights and Responsibilities

Tara LaFreniere • 28 February 2006

Recent events insist that all those internationally who aspire for freedom and understanding among people, talk about the fallacy of "absolute rights." The freedom of expression, as it bears itself out in both the right to speak, print, draw or march, is a fundamental building block of open society. However, as we all must remember, and be reminded it seems, with freedom comes great responsibility. The Danish cartoons, discussion of which has been ubiquitous, as well as the failed Loyalist march and subsequent riot in Dublin, are examples of the desire to up hold the bold notion of free expression without consideration of the who is accountable for the outcome.

Item 1. "The Parades" Ireland, now North and South, is historically rich with examples of how even seemingly beautiful parades can be incendiary. I've listened to detailed tit for tat arguments about the fault of each side for the Dublin riots. To some, the concept of the Love Ulster parade was offensive, while others could not see past what appeared to be planned placement of mobs. What should be most off putting is the lack of planning and control exerted by the authorities. There is no excuse for the violence that ensued, and I shall offer no justification for this behavior. However, the logistical failure of those whose duty it was to protect everyone involved, including marchers, merchants, on lookers was inexcusable. The 'right' to openly associate, protest or march can only come off successfully if the authorities intercede to be certain the plans do not include foreseeable disaster. Without speaking directly to this particular instance, the 'powers that be' should be wise enough to make common sense determinations regarding any planned marches or demonstrations. Moving groups away from areas that are difficult to secure, as well as solid review of areas to be involved for potential problems would seem a number one priority. A saying I have heard is, "Freedom isn't Free." How true that is with this particular freedom. The time and monetary cost to the authorities is great, but necessary, to allow people to gather freely and openly without creating the potential for anarchy.

Item 2. "The Cartoons" Freedom of the press is practically a commandment in much of the western world. It is essential that media outlets be able to report without fear of government reprisal. However, this 'right' is ideally envisioned with a counterbalance; the media has editors and publishers who use good judgment when printing/broadcasting material. Laws are in place for victims of libel to seek recourse. This helps keep the media honest, so to speak. The system has been working, to varying degrees of success, in localities all over the world for a long time. The world, as we all know, is becoming a much smaller place, information moves quickly and the mantle of responsibility on media outlets grows heavy. In the purest sense, perhaps the right to publish deeply offensive material exists, as would argue pornographers. Daily newspapers however should consider themselves held to a higher standard. If freedom of the press is to survive as a bedrock notion journalists must govern themselves. As with the parades, this freedom is also not free, it comes through the hard work, careful consideration and good sense of editors and publishers around the world who walk a fine line between informing (which evidenced by letters to the editor everywhere is always offending someone) and offending for it's own sake, or worse to prove the press is really free.

Rights are not absolute, they require balance. Likewise they are costly, and it appears their price is rising all the time. We cannot, nor to we wish to live without them so we must pay for them. Editors that over look the virtual power keg between east and west are analogous to police leaving a controversial parade route lined with paving stones. The violence that breaks out is not right, but it is predictable. The right to expression must be labored over, as should anything that is valuable and worth having.



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