Archive for November, 2009

Freedom of speech threatened — again

November 19, 2009

In 1990, Walter Sedlmayr, a well-known German actor was murdered. Two men were convicted and imprisoned for the crime: Wolfgang Werle and Manfred Lauber. They served their sentences and were released. Now they are suing Wikipedia (click HERE for the Wikipedia article) to remove any mention of their crime.

Their lawyer says that since they’d served their time, they are now entitled to privacy and to be left alone. And German law supports this. In Germany, media are not allowed to publish criminals’ names in these circumstances.

I agree that someone who has paid for his crime ought to have the opportunity to rebuild his life. He may now, indeed, be a good citizen. But he cannot be someone who has never committed a crime. And if German law seeks to achieve that transformation, it’s Orwellian.

But it’s worse than that. Freedom of speech, and freedom of the press, have got to include the ability to talk about events that have happened. To tell Wikipedia that it cannot say, in its article about Walter Sedlmayr, that he was murdered by two men named Werle and Lauber, is to say that it cannot chronicle history.

They were convicted in a court of law. They do have rights after release. But they don’t have the right to be non-murderers. They don’t have the right to get the past expunged from history.

As civil liberties lawyer Floyd Abrams said, “once you’re in the business of suppressing speech, the quest for more speech to suppress in endless.” Indeed, this is just one of innumerable ways in which freedom of expression continues to be under assault, even in advanced Western democracies where one might imagine these principles were settled beyond dispute. (See my previous blog entries on “Hillary: The Movie”; the UN “human rights” panel; and one other.)

The New York Times article about the Sedlmayr case ended by quoting the lawyer for the two murderers, who was interviewed: “I trust that you will not mention my clients’ names in your article.” Of course, the Times did mention their names. And so have I.

Sue me!

November 9, 1989

November 9, 2009

There had recently been some remodeling at my office, and a partition had been installed that blocked my window view. Trying to negotiate through the bureaucracy to get the partition moved was of course a big deal. I kept my wife apprised of the situation; in our conversations, I referred to the thing as “The Berlin Wall.”

On the evening of November 9, she came home late from work. I told her, “The Berlin Wall came down today!”

“The one in your office?”

“No, I answered, “the real one.”

An hour before, I had switched on the evening TV news at 6:30, as was my habit, and saw people dancing atop the wall. I will never forget that moment. I will never forget the images of people flooding through those gates, and whooping loudly in exhilaration at their sudden freedom. They had achieved it for themselves. The world changed that night, and became a new and better place.

There has been a lot of water under the bridge in the twenty years since, and some pessimists with their litany of negativism believe the world is actually worse now. They are wrong. We do not live in a perfect world, and never will. But the great sweep of history is a story of human beings making titanic efforts to improve their situation and the situation of everyone. November 9, 1989 was a shining milestone in that glorious eternal struggle.

And, yes, I did succeed in getting that wall at my office removed. I could look out again upon the world — more beautiful than ever.