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We’re in a moment of global retreat for democracy and freedom – Suzanne Nossel

The removal of pro-democracy books from Hong Kong libraries following the implementation of the national security law was alarming, says the author of a new book on free speech.

Suzanne Nossel told an FCC webinar that PEN America – a non-profit organisation that defends free expression and of which she is CEO – had been documenting events in the city in recent years and that she was saddened to see Hong Kong’s “vibrant intellectual life… steadily shut down”.

The author of Dare to Speak: Defending Free Speech for All, noted that we are in “a moment of global retreat for democracy and freedom”, naming other countries, including the Philippines where freedom of speech and press freedom under threat. Maria Ressa, a regular FCC speaker and founder of the news website Rappler, is currently appealing a conviction for cyber libel there.

The effect of the ongoing encroachment on free expression in Hong Kong would inevitably make it difficult to sustain any space for open dialogue in the city, she added.

In her book, Nossel addresses call outs, cancel culture, cultural appropriation, online content moderation, how to address hateful speech, and why we need to do more to amplify lesser heard voices. She outlines principles for how curb hate speech while protecting freedom of speech. One example is how to apologise having published or spoken a controversial opinion that has offended others.

“A genuine apology can go a long way and it should count for a lot,” she said, touching on the current trend of cancel culture that has resulted in the resignations of several high-profile media figures responsible for publishing controversial op-eds.

Nossel, who served in the Obama and Clinton administrations, criticised President Donald Trump for his inflammatory rhetoric around race and women, and addressed the “catalytic sea change” among Americans, sparked by the death of George Floyd.

You can watch the video here

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