One of the most basic of the Bahá'í
principles is that each individual has the right and duty to seek out the truth.
The right to free expression is a natural accompaniment to this:
"At the very root of the Cause lies
the principle of the undoubted right of the individual to self-expression, his
freedom to declare his conscience and set forth his views."
This principle applies throughout
Bahá'ícommunity life and Bahá'íadministration. It should apply at all levels
of society, including those people working in the news media, who have a
particular duty to investigate the truth.
The Role Of The Press
Bahá'u'lláh, the Founder of the
Bahá'íFaith, saw the potential of newspapers as promoters of justice and
champions of the oppressed. Addressing the Times newspaper in London, He wrote:
"O newspapers published throughout
the cities and countries of the world! Have ye heard the groan of the
downtrodden, and have their cries of anguish reached your ears? Or have these
remained concealed? It is hoped that ye will investigate the truth of what hath
occurred and vindicate it."
In addition they also have the
responsibility of reporting different views fairly and accurately. The press
should not be manipulated by small elements within society or used for
propaganda purposes and they do not have the right to interfere with people's
privacy without very good reason. Writing over a century ago, Bahá'u'lláh
encouraged journalists to be honest and careful in their reports:
"In this Day the secrets of the earth
are laid bare before the eyes of men. The pages of swiftly-appearing newspapers
are indeed the mirror of the world. They reflect the deeds and the pursuits of
divers peoples and kindreds. They both reflect them and make them known. They
are a mirror endowed with hearing, sight and speech. This is an amazing and
potent phenomenon. However, it behoveth the writers thereof to be purged from
the promptings of evil passions and desires and to be attired with the raiment
of justice and equity. They should enquire into situations as much as possible
and ascertain the facts, then set them down in writing."
Freedom and Moderation
Clearly, the ideal of freedom of
expression and the reporting of the truth are both essential to human life and
healthy societies. Generations of the oppressed have fought and died in order to
voice freely their ideals, their concerns and needs. Yet the freedom of
individuals to express themselves needs to be tempered by the principle of
moderation. Bahá'u'lláh stressed that when liberty passes beyond the limits of
moderation the result can be calamitous. In all aspects of communication, from
the freedom of the press to the language we use in our everyday conversations,
true freedom of expression requires moderation in our choice of words. Only when
we show respect for others and their ideas will freedom of speech become a force
for peace and unity in the world.
"Human utterance is an essence which
aspireth to exert its influence and needeth moderation. As to its influence,
this is conditional upon refinement which in turn is dependent upon hearts which
are detached and pure. As to its moderation this hath to be combined with tact
and wisdom ..."
Content, volume, style, tact, wisdom
and timeliness are among the critical factors in determining the effects of
speech for good or evil. By addressing themselves to these concerns, Bahá'ís are
striving to achieve a new etiquette of expression which is worthy of the
approaching maturity of the human race.
"For the tongue is a smouldering
fire, and excess of speech a deadly poison. Material fire consumeth the body,
whereas the fire of the tongue devoureth both heart and soul. The force of the
former lasteth but for a time, whilst the effects of the latter endureth a
The principles of Bahá'íconsultation
are based on the freedom of speech. Each person is required to express his or
her views freely but with courtesy, dignity and care, and to show respect for
the opinions of others. The object is to search for the best way, not to win an
argument. Divergence of opinion is used as a tool rather than a hindrance:
"The shining spark of truth cometh
forth only after the clash of differing opinions".
Freedom Of Information
The ideal of freedom of speech needs
to become universal. The nations of the world must agree to include both freedom
of speech and freedom of information in a universal bill of rights. The advent
of satellite dishes and the Internet is already making it increasingly difficult
to hide information from the public. The current age has seen a remarkable
expansion in access to information, and the multiplication of sources dealing
with current events. The increasing interdependence of the world community also
makes it desirable that a world language should be chosen, together with an
appropriate script, and taught in all the schools of the world. Then, in
addition to local and national media in various languages, a variety of
genuinely global sources of information would be available. This must be free of
censorship by national governments or other bodies. Bahá'u'lláh specifically
forbids the destruction of literature for religious or political motives.
However, if there is no form of censorship or control imposed from outside then
self-restraint is required on the part of individuals and of institutions. As
human society matures, self-regulation on the part of the press and
self-restraint on the part of the public should become an effective means of
maintaining a suitably high standard.
Bahá'ís believe that the goals of
unity and harmony must be adopted as the underlying forces directing change.
These goals would transform the character of the news media and of human
The Power of Free Speech
"One word," Bahá'u'lláh wrote, "hath
the influence of spring and causeth hearts to become fresh and verdant, while
another is like unto blight which causeth the blossoms and flowers to wither."
This is true both for individuals and for the news media. When they have the
best interests of humanity at heart, the media will be able to make an ever more
valuable contribution to the preservation of the rights and freedoms of
individuals. They will have a powerful role in the constructive processes of a
society moving inevitably towards global consciousness.
Bahá'ís look forward to a society in
which freedom of speech underpins a just and equitable world order, and in
which truth and honesty support social harmony and universal progress.
The text of all these leaflets remains the copyright of Warwick Bahá'í Bookshop. The Bookshop is happy for people to download individual copies for their own purposes. Printed copies can be purchased from the Warwick Bookshop. Individuals or communities wishing to translate or print these leaflets in other countries please contact the Bookshop for permission.