#FCBBCA with Timothy Garton Ash: Is it time for a global conversation on free speech?

Talk May 15, 2012 7:00 PM

In a year of unrest that began with the Arab spring and spread to Russia and the Ukraine, the spotlight has been on the role of the internet and social media in challenging power elites and their capacity to control what the outside world sees.

But as with China, the use of social media also raised questions about the relationship between the big global companies like Facebook, Twitter and Google with not only the activists who used them, but also with the regimes they were challenging.

We saw too that decisions made in the US and Europe about mobile phone security levels and government access to social media sites had consequences for those who were tracked down and imprisoned not only in Egypt but also in Iran.

As westerners face greater surveillance in the name of security, including threats of increased controls in the wake of the August 2011 riots, we will be joined by Timothy Garton Ash and a respected panel of experts to discuss what the historian and commentator has set out as the first principle of free speech: That all human beings must be free and able to express themselves, and to receive and impart information and ideas, regardless of frontiers.

Is it time to create a new global code that governs freedom of speech? We will be discussing this vital issue and examining what such a code would include.

Chaired by Sina Motalebi, editor of Persian Online and Interactive at the BBC World Service. He has worked for BBC since 2004 in various capacities including an online editor and director of Iran projects for World Service Trust (now known as Global Media Action), editor of interactivity and Head of Output on BBC Persian TV.


Timothy Garton Ash, the director of Free Speech Debate, a multi-lingual online platform for discussing freedom of expression. He is Professor of European Studies in the University of Oxford, Isaiah Berlin Professorial Fellow at St Antony’s College, Oxford, and a Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University. His essays appear regularly in the New York Review of Books and he writes a weekly column in the Guardian.

Marie GillespieProfessor of Sociology at The Open University and Co-Director of the Centre for Research on Socio-Cultural Change. She researches transnationalism and diaspora cultures comparatively and historically. Recent projects include an exploration of the new politics of security via a collaborative ethnography of transnational news cultures in eight UK cities, a national survey with the BBC on the changing face of British humour and a large-scale study of the BBC World Service as a multi-diasporic institution. She was recently awarded an AHRC Public Policy Fellowship to assess the potential of social media for opening up transnational political debate, specifically in relation to the BBC Arabic Services.

Khaled Fahmy, professor and chair of American University in Cairo’s Department of History. He is author of several publications including Mehmed Ali: From Ottoman Governor to Ruler of Egypt, All the Pasha’s Men: Mehmed Ali Pasha, His Army and the Founding of Modern Egypt and The Body and Modernity: Essays in the History of Medicine and Law in Modern Egypt.

Kirsty Hughes, the Chief Executive of Index on Censorship – an international freedom of expression non-governmental organisation. She is a commentator on European and international affairs and has worked at Chatham House and written for Friends of Europe and the Centre for European Policy Studies in Brussels.  She contributes to international and European media including the BBC, CNN, Al Jazeera, The Huffington Post and others.