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Free Speech, Human Rights And Western Values?

Speakers: Andrew Puddephatt, Ursula Owen
Chair: Dr Matthew Engelke, Centre for the Study of Human Rights
October 2003


Freedom of speech is universally regarded as one of the most basic human rights of all, a vital building-bloc in any democratic society as well as a guarantor of personal freedom. Western society is especially proud of its record on free speech and very critical of other cultures with apparently less of a commitment to the right that we think we see here. How justified is our assumption that free speech is particularly well-protected in western society? Even if it is well protected, is free speech always necessarily a good thing?

In 1974, Ursula Owen became a co-founder of Virago Press, a feminist press, widely considered the most successful independent publishing house established in decades. Owen remained on Virago's board until the company was sold to Little Brown in 1996. Ursula Owen is editor and chief executive of Index on Censorship, a position she has held since joining the London-based bimonthly in the fall of 1993. Since joining Index, Owen has overseen a dramatic editorial redesign; broadened the focus of the magazine to include contemporary debates on issues such as immigration, religious fundamentalism, the death penalty, and the condition of the world's children; and shepherded the magazine to increased worldwide circulation and influence.

Andrew Puddephatt has been the Executive Director of ARTICLE 19 since January 1999. He has been an expert member of both the Council of Europe of the Commonwealth Expert working groups on freedom of information and freedom of expression. He is the Vice-Chair of International Media Support; a Danish based NGO that provides emergency support to journalists in conflict areas. He is also a member of International Steering Committee for the Bibliotheca Alexandrina database, a Norwegian based project that documents the history of censorship in the world and an international Board member of the Open Democracy Centre in South Africa.

Andrew works closely with a number of international bodies, including the Special Rapporteurs for free expression of the UN, OSCE and OAS, with UNESCO, with the Africa Commission for Human and People's Rights and the Council of Europe.

Andrew has been a senior manager in the not for profit sector for more than twelve years. Between October 1995 and January 1999 he was the Director of Charter 88 which was the UK's leading constitutional reform organisation. Between 1989 and 1995 he was General Secretary of Liberty (aka the National Council for Civil Liberties). In both capacities he played a leading role in securing a Bill of Rights for the UK. This was agreed in 1998 after eight years campaigning and took effect in October 2000. In January 2003 he was awarded an OBE for services to human rights.