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Enriching or Impoverishing Discourse on Rights? Talk about Freedom of Expression on Arab Television

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There is more to the denial of freedom of expression than outright censorship. The right to freedom of expression is interdependent with, and indivisible from, other rights guaranteed under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. To discuss freedom of expression narrowly as if it were self-contained, and to conceal the issues, processes, and conflicts implicit in its achievement, can be seen as a hegemonic strategy that serves relations of domination. Three sets of public exchanges analyzed here, conducted on and about Arab television against a background of growing international intolerance for free speech, arguably contributed to a narrow, reified understanding of freedom of expression. The first centered on a television drama serial, the second on cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed, and the third on the ambitions of a privately owned television station in Egypt. Since freedom of expression was repeatedly referred to in all three cases, it might be said that Arab television increased awareness on this topic. Evidence shows, however, that instead of illuminating ways in which the rights and duties inherent in freedom of expression could benefit the viewing public, each set of exchanges helped to sustain power relations by obscuring them.


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