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NPR rock critic’s speech takes on tough issues

Tim Riley, a rock critic, an author and a journalist-in-residence at Emerson College, began his lecture in Sheslow Auditorium on Monday night with a joke.

“Since I’m a rock critic, I get to start my presentations like this,” Riley said. “How many hipsters does it take to screw in a lightbulb? Oh, it’s a really obscure number you don’t know, you wouldn’t even understand.”

Throughout the lecture, “Let Freedom Leak,” which was sponsored by the Drake Honors Program, Riley talked about other obscure subjects. He addressed issues of free speech and how the Internet complicates these issues.

One of the first questions Riley wanted the audience to consider was how is the nation going to effectively take care of speech issues in America? He then asked how this would affect not only communication in America, but also, what he called, “global speech.”

Riley talked about the importance of the First Amendment and read it to the audience. He spoke about government involvement in Internet censorship and how national security concerns mixed with the freedoms in the First Amendment can be problematic.

“Because of how we communicate through the Internet, issues are suddenly global and the law is evaded,” he said. “We are in one of the most intense news seasons since I can remember as a journalist, and we are encountering free speech issues.”

Hannah Fordyce, a sophomore law, politics and society and English double major, said she heard about the lecture in one of her LPS classes that specifically focuses on the First Amendment. She said she was glad she attended because the presentation was relevant to what she learning about in the class.

“I think that national security is always an issue, and the way he tied that into tonight was interesting,” Fordyce said. “Thinking about how the U.S. has varied greatly on the issue, especially between the McCarthy era to now, we’ve just had a wide variety of policies on it, and he brought up some good points.”

Riley said there are three types of censorship: government, commercial and self. But there are things that all three have in common, such as claiming that they are not censors, having glaring omissions and contradictions and lacking a sense of humor.

He focused on three issues dealing with censorship. The first was about Mark Twain’s “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” and how there is a new version that replace the N-word, which is used over 200 times in the novel, with the word “slave.”

“Why do people want to go after this particular book?” Riley asked. “Nobody wants to do it with William Faulkner’s work. ‘Light in August’ uses a lot of racial slurs as well.”

Riley said one argument for not creating new versions of the book is because it won’t get rid of racism now or make up for racism of the past.

“If we censored Playboy, there would still be sexism,” he said. “You just can’t stamp the word out from American history, that’s quite ridiculous.”

The second issue Riley discussed was net neutrality or, rather, lack thereof. This means that the Internet itself falls more the side of left-wing politics because the widespread use of it promotes liberal tendencies, he said.

“The Internet can foster free expression as well as propaganda,” Riley said. “We have to ask ourselves, ‘Is the new medium the message? Does the Internet steer people toward democracy?’”

Sophomore broadcast news major Katherine Fritcke said she thought lectures like this are important because of how engaged students are with Facebook, Twitter and the Internet in general.

“Basically, everything that we say is going to go into this public sphere, and I don’t think that students realize that issues like the ones he was talking about come up,” Fritcke said. “It’s just important to realize the fact that what you say, especially on the Internet, can influence the future.”

Riley wrapped up his presentation by talking about the third censorship issue: WikiLeaks. He talked about “Collateral Murder,” the Iraq Apache helicopter attack from 2007, which killed 18 people, including two Reuters journalists.

“They tried to hide it because it showed the war up close and made people extremely uncomfortable with how warfare is handled today,” Riley said.

Riley also discussed the WikiLeaks war log files and cablegate. He said Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, forced the government to be more transparent, but because Assange put the information on the Internet, he received a lot of flak.

“On the Web, innocent until proven guilty does not apply,” Riley said. “They’re only going after this guy because he published it on the Web. Yet it’s perfectly acceptable to publish it in a newspaper like The New York Times.”

Riley said that nowadays, we are entering a new realm of global citizenship and it is creating conflict about sharing information. But this conflict will not be resolved through censorship, he said.

“I think the remedy is more speech, not silence,” Riley said. “We don’t need less liberty, we need more liberty.”


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