Wind up, ready to go, opinions at the ready, let's launch Freedom of Speech.
It's fantastic. Let's get that out of the way to start with. Freedom of speech is fantastic, but in the same sense that Unicorns are fantastic and the crock of gold at the end of the rainbow is fantastic. It's a complete myth.
I'm writing this from the very heartland of a society that claims to have freedom of speech, and indeed does have a susbtantial amount of freedom of speech, but in practice it's restrained and constrained in almost every way. It doesn't stop the freedom that we have from being important, and necessary. But it's not total freedom. Remember that, boys and girls.
The limits on our freedom are many. Some are simple and self-imposed. In the world of blogs, for instance, it is usually considered prudent not to mention too much about our personal lives. For example, my partner might not want to be named on this site. So I don't. In theory, I could, but in practice I don't because of the little thing known as "consequences". In this case, a thick ear and a cold shoulder. Some are enshrined in law. I couldn't legitimately use my site to incite racial hatred. Just as well I have no intention of doing any such thing.
Libel laws are a huge impediment to freedom of speech. If I were a newspaper I couldn't publish a front page story about Tony Blair cheating on his wife with Gordon Brown unless there was some evidence to back it up - not without risking legal action anyway. It may be true, although it probably isn't. Regardless, a newspaper doesn't have the freedom to present it as fact, and nor do I.
But we have substantial freedom. We will never have full freedom in our society, because our society is about restricting our own freedoms in order to benefit society as a collective, and I'll write about that another time. We have freedom as long as we use that freedom in a responsible manner, and it is that debatable word "responsible" where the battle for freedom is constantly fought.