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FREEDOM OF THE PRESS

by Mads Haahr – An Essay
They wanted the Young European Federalists Denmark to write about freedom of the press. Yet they did not give them overall freedom to describe freedom of the press. They were therefore confined to a mere one thousand words in their description. So the eternally cantankerous youth pondered how you could ask for a description of freedom of the press and at the same time impose conditions restricting the freedom of the description to a measly one thousand words. "They should not tell us what to do. We can write just as many words as we like", the Young Federalists immediately thought. They stuck to their rebellious thoughts but, ultimately, they could neither determine nor see where freedom ended and constraint began. When they tried to think their way out of this delusion, they realised that they actually still had the opportunity to write a thousand and one words. Indeed, even the opportunity to write five thousand words was open to them if they so desired. It was simply a case of letting a few extra keystrokes slide and they would suddenly have won their freedom. This got the Young European Federalists thinking. Perhaps this freedom also gave them the opportunity to dispense with the grumbling and conform to the rules of the competition, given that it was actually this same freedom that gave them the opportunity to refrain from exceeding the limit on the description.

Mads Haahr Mads Haahr Winner of "1000 words for freedom" (photo: ECPMF/Andreas Lamm)

The instinctive insubordination of the Young European Federalists was not actually that strange. They were children of the '90s, with the delightful upbringing and wealth of opportunities available to them that entailed, so it was purely instinctive for them to become enraged as soon as someone told them that there was something they absolutely could not do, something they absolutely must not do. Their reflections simultaneously gave rise to a new, claustrophobic concept of freedom. A concept whereby freedom was a constraint rather than an opportunity, whereby freedom was an obligation rather than a privilege. Although the Young European Federalists Denmark were immunised against Marxism in all its forms, they did not want to see their generation be bound like slaves to a production line at Freedom Ltd either, where their only goal would be to toil away to produce the goods with the freedom label attached. Or else freedom would become the opposite of itself, with the Young European Federalists giving vent to the same thing under the banner of freedom. They continued thinking. Perhaps it was this very deliberation, this duality, that would form the picture frame for their descriptions of the freedom of the press.  Perhaps the picture of freedom they were to paint should not be formed in such a square manner, with such caricatured and stubborn brushstrokes as they normally liked to use. Perhaps they should allow the duality to retouch the images of freedom of the press they submitted to the competition?

So the Young European Federalists began to ask questions about their intuitive understanding of freedom of the press. When was freedom of the press an opportunity and when was it a constraint? When were they involuntarily coerced into censorship and when were they voluntarily coerced into openness? In the same way, they asked themselves whether it was the constraint of freedom or the opportunities of freedom that required that they write word number one thousand and one?

They continued to think about how often writing has not been the source of insults throughout history. Insults against minorities, insults against religious symbols or insults against idols of youth. Had all of these been equally necessary? Had the originators of the insults, whether journalists, authors or preachers of religion, all asked themselves whether their writing was a servant of freedom or a parasite of freedom? If their writings have been insulting but the return has offset the insults, have they actually used freedom to insult? But if their writings have insulted, simply because they had the freedom to insult, have they actually abused this freedom to insult? Freedom of the press was therefore actually a balancing act between all these dualities. A choice between opportunity and constraint, between use and abuse. Because an individual abusing the freedom to insult, also actually relinquished the freedom not to insult.

The Young European Federalists Denmark also deliberated over how they could connect these dualities in their contributions to the competition. If they chose to ignore the requirements of the competition, much like a journalist choosing to write in an insulting manner, they could therefore also justify why their choice was a use of their freedom and not an abuse. They realised that it was probably at this junction in this dilemma that they, as young writers, should show that they were mature enough for the responsibility of freedom. Their ideas also drew a parallel with the Spiderman movie, and Uncle Ben's parting educational words, which had been enshrined in all of them. Perhaps the same applied to them, these free, young writers, as for Peter Parker: with great power and great freedom comes great responsibility. A responsibility to dare to speak out where others would remain silent, but also a responsibility to remain silent where others would speak. They had both the freedom to write the extra word but also the freedom to refrain from writing the extra word. Freedom was therefore a task they needed to perform, a power they needed to manage. It was their own free trade-off that determined whether exceeding the word restriction would be a use or abuse of freedom. Would the word be committed to paper on the basis of the opportunities of freedom or the constraint of freedom?  

Ultimately, after reflecting upon this, the Young European Federalists Denmark stood at a crossroads to freedom. Should they rely on the understanding of the freedom of the press as an absolute that obliterated all restrictions on what they could or were allowed to do? Or should they acknowledge that word number one thousand and one would be bending the knee to freedom rather than an application of it? They could go with their initial stubbornness, write the extra word and not give a damn about the competition’s rules or they could comply with them, knowing full well that they had thrown away their opportunity of defying them. Which of the paths to freedom was the correct trade-off? The choice was quite an easy one for them. Since the Young European Federalists Denmark were also children of capitalism and competition, children of consumerism and decadence. If they decided to write the extra word, consciously opting for disqualification and consciously giving up their chance of a free two-day conference, their freedom would indeed become a bind, so they refrained from committing word number one thousand and one to paper.