Just because you have the right to do something doesn’t mean it is the right thing to do.

We currently have two stories headlining news in regards to the media – compromising photos of Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, better known as Kate Middleton, and an anti-Islamic film. Both have stirred the debate over freedom of speech and expression.

Freedom of expression is declared as a human right under Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The article states, “everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.”

As a writer, I don’t want my writings censored. I treasure the right to speak out on topics of my choice and voice my opinion if I wish to do so.

However, I personally temper this privilege by avoiding language that is libelous or infringes on someone else’s copyright. Most of all, I consider the intent of the topics I cover. I don’t intentionally want to offend anyone. My goal is to promote ideas that raise the consciousness of my readership to a higher, more loving, and peaceful level.

Many years ago I interviewed a public official for a story on a local event. At the end, the official spoke to me about other individuals working in his town and his dissatisfaction with them. Several days later he called and asked me not to write anything from that part of the conversation.

My article already went to print, so his call came too late to change it. Fortunately for him, I did not include any of his inflammatory statements. Those remarks had nothing to do with the article, there was no positive benefit in including any of it, and I don’t write gossip.

But I did have every right to write a story on his accusations. My suggestion to the official was that he be more careful about what he said to any reporter at any time. Often once people think an interview is over they give the juiciest information. It is good to keep in mind that the interview is never over.

An ethical artist considers the ramifications of their art upon their subject. Libel laws offer little protection to public figures such as Kate Middleton but the photographer who went out of their way to capture private moments in a secluded location knew the impact of the photos.

It isn’t likely that either those photos or the anti-Islamic film are exceptional creative expressions or examples of the creators’ extraordinary talent. Most likely it’s all about money. The creators, producers, publishers, and distributors are seeking to reap significant financial profits from their works.

And there is another side of this issue that’s rarely discussed. That’s where you come in. No money is made if there isn’t an audience eager to view these pieces. When you purchase a ticket, buy a book, magazine, or piece of music, or click on a video or photos that are hateful, distasteful, or humiliating, you contribute toward the harm inflicted upon the victims. You are party to this negativity.

If you are unsure of your effect, imagine your child or other loved one in that position. How would you feel about the people who bought into their pain?

©2012, Mary K. Doyle

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