In Defence of Free Speech
story Kaushik Swaminathan
Yale-NUS is an infant born from the womb of over four hundred years of collective academic excellence in Asia and the United States, and it is a child that often asks questions the adults don’t have answers to. In the three years since its inception, the school has redefined what it means to be a liberal arts institution and it has done so on the shoulders of giants, borrowing from the infrastructural establishments of NUS and the interdisciplinary academia of both Yale and NUS, all the while carving a unique identity for itself independent of the two schools. As a microcosm of the entire world, far more than either one of our parent universities, Yale-NUS is founded, built, and run by a community truly embodying eclecticism and as a consequence, every individual here has a different perspective on how the school is run and what its future should look like. As one of the many mediums to express our angst or approval, student publications have a responsibility to adhere to the principles of journalism and publish even the most incendiary of materials, provided there is merit for it.
There remains a common misconception that PANOPT, the first student publication on campus, is a newsletter monitored by the administration of our school; this is no longer the case. As an independent student publication, it has the authority – and responsibility – to publish any material that informs the student population of a concerned viewpoint, regardless of whether a significant majority disagrees with it. In fact, that is what makes our school so special. The vision and mission statements (specifically from the faculty’s point of view) explicitly acknowledge the importance of freedom of expression, why there can be “no questions that cannot be asked, no answers that cannot be discussed and debated.”
Student publications, much like PANOPT, are in a position of power to deliver news in a large-scale and influential manner, and in doing so, every publication acts as an independent monitor of power. In exploring views on the school administration, its policies, and general conflicts on campus, PANOPT provides the community with a reliable and diverse position on those whose power and actions affect us most. The active participation of our student body in the evolution of our academic, fine arts, and athletic departments signals that nobody here is apathetic and will let change take over them unquestioningly. Along this long and convoluted road to defining the identity of our institution will be roadblocks that divide us, and in such a time, a student publication’s loyalty is first and foremost to its community. While news organizations and publications represent many constituencies, be it a corporation or college administration and parent institutions (in our case), the journalists in said organizations must maintain an allegiance to the community and the larger public interest if they are to provide the news without fear or favor.
Perhaps what is most obviously being forgotten in the entire conversation on independent publications and their right to comprehensive and proportional reporting is that the reader is allowed, and often, even encouraged to disagree with the content that is being put forth. But when it is done in a disrespectful and insincere way, not only is it shameful on the very concepts of liberty and freedom of expression our community so proudly attempts to embody, but it is also misrepresentative of the character of our cohort. “If liberty means anything at all,” as George Orwell says, “it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.”