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Benny Tai Yiu-ting

Hong Kong and free speech: how Benny Tai's detractors have got it all wrong

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 10 April, 2018, 2:17pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 10 April, 2018, 2:36pm

In his letter (“Four things Benny Tai should know about ‘free speech’”, April 6), Professor Michael Ng-Quinn defines “justifiable” restrictions on the freedom of speech in the following ways: first, “restrictions on freedom of speech may be justified … if the speech violates a law”.

In other words, all laws restricting free speech are justifiable because they are laws.

Second, “if the speech may cause danger to public safety”. Granted, this is a well-accepted restriction on free speech.

Third, “a speech is not an academic exercise in search of truth if it is one-sided and does not include different or opposing perspectives in appropriate detail”. In other words, no one should be allowed to express their own views without also expressing all other possible views in detail.

By this standard, Professor Ng-Quinn’s letter on “free speech” is itself not in search of truth (since he does not consider any opposing perspectives) and it would be justifiable to restrict his right to express himself in this way.

Fourth, if “the speech is inconsistent with societal norms”. In other words, any minority opinion can be justifiably silenced. If, for example, in a particular society, most people believe women should not drive, it would be justifiable to prevent people from suggesting that women should be able to drive.

Finally, he concludes that “an academic ceases to be telling the truth if he or she becomes a partisan”.

In other words, no professor should express an opinion on any political or social issue.

Again, Ng-Quinn seems to violate this principle with his own highly contentious views on justifiable restrictions on free speech. Why doesn’t he simply say: “Free speech is a silly concept and I don’t like it”?

Kelly Inglis, Discovery Bay