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Russian Journalist Pays the Price for Exercising Freedoms

November 22, 2010

While reading J.S. Mill’s famous text On Liberty, I got slightly distracted and resorted to my usual Internet web browsing.  As I was perusing, I stumbled upon an article about Russian journalist Oleg Kashin being beaten and almost murdered by unknown attackers outside of his apartment in the center of Moscow.  While this could seem like a random act of violence, it struck me when I continued to research and found out that a startling number of journalists in Russia have been attacked and murdered in the past 17 years. This guy was definitely not getting mugged.  Then it struck me that this story has a true connection to what I was currently “reading” about in On Liberty. There is a specific reason why this journalist among many others has been silenced in Russia.  Mill argues for the importance of liberty and freedom of speech and opinion not just for the individual person, but also for the benefit of society as a whole. If according to Mill,

“Any opinion is compelled to silence, that opinion may, for aught we can certainly know, be true. To deny this is to assume our own infallibility.”

This is just one of Mill’s main points that liberty of opinion is extremely valuable.  We are lucky in the United States to actually have a really wide realm for which freedom of speech exists.  Yes, we can’t shout “Fire!” in a theater, and we probably shouldn’t be able to deny the Holocaust, as they can’t in Canada for example.  We are able to express our opinions in public forums, in the press, in private and in the middle of the University of Michigan Diag, just to name a few.  In Russia on the other hand, clearly liberty is stifled by certain groups of people who disagree or have differing interests.  Many Russian journalists have been attacked for exercising their freedoms of speech and press.  Not only does this inhibit members of Russian society from truly feeling safe expressing their opinions, but in most of the cases the Russian government and Prime Minister have done nothing to bring any sort of justice to these attacked citizens.  While no motives have been officially pinpointed, the attack on Kashin seems to be related to his investigation of the Soviet government Kremlin’s plans to build a highway through forests northwest of Moscow.  Seems like a pretty noble cause to me.  Mill argues that,

“If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.”

Even if the organizations so adamant in silencing journalists like Kashin’s opinions are right, they aren’t giving themselves the opportunity to strengthen their own argument. Mill believes this is one of the most valuable aspects of allowing the expression of any opinion.  I don’t know much about Russian politics, but I do know any group can value from intelligently and strategically countering someone else’s differing view.  It doesn’t matter whether Kashin by acknowledging something not necessarily favorable is right or wrong; by valuing his freedom of opinion and press he is helping not himself, but the Russian people as a whole.   Here is a video explaining the violent situation involving Kashin…

  1. changmc permalink
    November 22, 2010 5:30 PM

    I think this is a great connection you draw between Mill and Russian society. Attacks like this induce fear throughout society, making it difficult and risky for people to express their opinions on controversial topics. His liberty of expressing his opinion facilitates the understanding of an entire community of people. The amount of unsolved murders of journalists in Russia definitely portrays how short some societies have come. If journalists are being attacked and killed for writing important news, one can only wonder what kind of news is actually being written and if those journalists who are still writing on important topics are corrupt with different agendas.

  2. maqianhu permalink
    November 24, 2010 10:26 PM

    I agree that we have so much more freedom than other societies such as Russia, and we often take it for granted. In the American society, we are used to saying whatever we want and publishing and reading whatever we please. We expect this freedom because we have been exposed to it since our birth. We rarely consider that other societies do not have the same freedom and how important this freedom is to the government and societies.

  3. greguff permalink
    December 2, 2010 4:59 PM

    Freedom of speech in Russia is limited, particularly in the press. Several journalists throughout the past seventeen years have been physically abused and in extreme cases murdered for their publications. According to Mill, if an opinion is censored, it is censored for a reason. The reason in most cases is because the opinion is true. Mill further argues that the freedom of speech not only benefits the individual, but society as a whole. In the case of a journalist, their articles educate the entire public regarding current events; therefore their freedom of speech benefits all of Russia.

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