The official newspaper of the 58th international
European Youth Parliament session in Liverpool
Fighting the speakers’ corner
Freedom to stand up and speak one’s mind is safe guarded through Speakers’ Corners. Jonáš Jančařík speaks with Peter Bradley, director of the Speakers’ Corner Trust and explores the story behind this steadfast form of communication?
The words you are reading were edited. If you write something on the Internet, the government can block it. In the TV, it is possible to take one’s words out of context. And even when you are making a phone call, your words are recorded. No way of communication is freer than a direct speech to the audience.
A paved corner of the Hyde Park in London was designated a free speech area in 1872 as a result of a struggle commenced by a series of socialist demonstrations in the late 1860s. Since that time the so-called Speaker’s Corner symbolises the right of free speech and citizens’ involvement. Speakers hailing from all social classes have been allowed to come and stand up before the crowd and speak up on any topic, limited only by the audience’s mood and the weather.
Liberties like these helped create the atmosphere in which everyone’s opinion can be freely heard. Citizens of totalitarian states still remember the fear of punishment for speaking ones mind, however, all Londoners have to fear is standing before a crowd. Emerging democracies are up against a number of other problems. People with strong opinions may still be intimidated by those in power and must fight against a culture where others simply do not listen. However vague this may sound, it is clearly visible by the lack of quality social magazines in some countries.
Totalitarian or non-democratic states usually try to keep control over public gatherings because when the media are state controlled, speeches are the only guaranteed way to express opinions publicly. Václav Havel, one of the most important fighters for freedom in the Eastern block, knows very well what it means to be prosecuted for speaking up – and that is why he took patronage over the project of the Speaker’s Corner Trust (SCT).
Peter Bradley, a former MP, is one of the founding trustees of SCT. “We are working with the local authorities, trying to establish defined and protected places for public speeches in their cities. In Prague, the response of local politicians was just great,” he says in an interview with The Liverpudlian. SCT launched a Speakers’ Corner at Prague’s Palackého square in 2004 as the model Corner for other cities to join the project. Currently SCT is taking care of another project in Nottingham, UK, and is co-operating with potential local SCT committees in other countries including Nigeria.
SCT renews the most basic form of public communication, which should not be forgotten, even in the age of multimedia. It is important for every democracy that freedom of speech is secured for absolutely everyone, regardless of how big the audience is. Whilst media corporations are run for profit or even motivated by hidden agendas, the individual speaker expresses himself more personally and directly to us, in a fashion we can both see and understand.
(The European Youth Parliament organised its own Speakers’ Corner during its conference and recorded events in a photo essay.)