The Liverpudlian – 23 July 2008


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.)

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