Freedom of Expression and Discrimination – should it be banned?

By Yan Chen

In January 27, 2020, Jyllands-Posten, a Danish newspaper, had published a cartoon graphic of the Chinese flag with five coronavirus particles photoshopped over the five stars. The author Niels Bo Bojesen played a malicious joke on the current serious and sorrowful situation in China and had hurt the feeling of all Chinese people who was suffering now.

When Chinese government has demanded an apology from the newspaper and the illustrator, they refused to apologize for it because they thought that was their freedom of expression in Denmark. Indeed, they even did not think they make anything wrong, and in their culture, making fun of a nation flag is permissible. Additionally, many Danish people kept spreading out some online memes that critique Chinese people and government as vulnerable.

In my perspective, I can never believe that anyone in the world is able to mock others due to his freedom of expression. I think this behavior has already crossed the bottom line of ethical boundary of free speech. The virus had killed thousands of people in the world, whereas the newspaper still made fun of that without sympathy, which is definitely immoral and inhuman. I think this is systemic injustice, because the power of freedom cannot become anyone’s excuse to bully others.

Simone de Beauvoir introduces the concept of the Other in her work “The second sex”. In this case, I think people from China suffering the virus were categorized as the Other by Danish people who were making fun of that. In this semester, many literary works described the experience of prejudice which I think has similarity to this situation. For instance, Ortiz Cofer wrote in her novel “The Story of My Body” that she experienced racial prejudice many times because she was thought as the Other by those native persons.

11 thoughts on “Freedom of Expression and Discrimination – should it be banned?

  1. This topic of freedom of expression and discrimination and how that can have a negative impact is a very important topic today. People must realize that words have consequences and can be bigger than what one believes – when people come at others due to a shared identity and associated idea with that identity (such as Chinese people and the corona virus), then this can foster abusive and dangerous environments.

  2. Hi Yan,
    I also think Jyllands-Posten’s behavior is inappropriate. As you mentioned in your passage, the reason why the newspaper and the illustrator refuse to apologize is that they think they have the freedom of expression in Denmark. I think their logic is wrong. The Chinese government has never talked about they shouldn’t express their own thought. Also, Chinese people can also speak whatever they want in China. However, as an adult, although you have the right to express your own thought, you should also need to be responsible for the consequences of your actions. Following this newspaper’s “logic”, if I speak some insulting words to a person, such as some words involved racism, and make him/her angry, I don’t need to apologize since I have the freedom of ex[ression. It’s clear that their logic is very absurd.

  3. I thought your post was very interesting! I wrote a DSI post earlier in the semester about a French newspaper doing a similar thing. It is truly surprising that newspapers would publish something so crass and not even apologize!
    I also think your title brings up a very intriguing discussion. During scary times like these, we need humor more than ever to lighten the mood and make it through the day. However, I think there should be limits and boundaries to the kind of jokes that we make. We should never use comedy as an excuse for the perpetuation of racism and discrimination.

  4. Yan,

    I enjoyed reading your post about the Danish newspaper’s coronavirus post. I think it is extremely relevant today and as the coronavirus has spread and become more serious the Chinese have gotten more blame and accusations for it. I think it’s interesting that this post was published in January as the coronavirus was beginning to spread worldwide around then. And while the post may be categorized as free speech it does not mean that it is ethical or right to publish something like that.

  5. Yen,
    This example of systemic injustice has sadly been very relevant in today’s day and age where the coronavirus has been a subject of much conversation and discussion. I have also seen so many examples of injustice toward the Chinese individuals and culture pertaining to the coronavirus and in one of my diaries, I talked about the injustices of students on campuses receiving backlash or being treated differently if they were wearing a mask or coughing around campus. This virus has created mass hysteria and fear and caused individuals to potentially act in inappropriate ways toward individuals of different races. Your example of the meme and the photoshopped flag were indeed examples of systemic injustices and made me sad to see just how many other examples of injustice there were surrounding the coronavirus.

    (I was not logged in when I first posted my comment so my comment may have shown up twice. Sorry!)

  6. Hi Yan, as a Chinese I also feel what you feel. As Coronavirus outbreak becomes more and more severe all around the world, such discrimination has also become a severe problem. As I browse videos and moments online, there are still many people making fun of this pandemic and there are still lots of people openly discriminate against Asian people everywhere which really breaks my heart. What makes us angrier and more disappointed is that President Trump called Coronavisrus as “Chinese Virus” on his Twitter and in his speech several times. I have never thought before that a president of a country can be so racist. This Covid-19 virus does not care whether we are white, black, or yellow, the thing is that there are many people suffering from this and many people dying from this. That is, it is senseless to make fun of the virus at such a crucial and serious time. Although we might not be able to help with anything, at least we have to make efforts to make the world more peaceful and to help each other as a whole. In a word, I wish everything to get better soon and everyone stays at home and be safe.

  7. I like your post! I really like how you related it to something that is current and near to your thoughts. I don’t think it’s fair to refuse to apologize for something like this. From my perspective I think it was a little harsh for the newspaper to do it, but I also think they were trying to make light of a bad situation. In my opinion, I see both sides of the argument here, but I don’t understand why they couldn’t come out say sorry it was an insensitive photograph. I feel like an apology could have went a long way.

  8. I worked a lot with the concept of othering this semester as it was a concept that caught my attention and I wanted to dive deeper into understanding, and I think in the end of your diary you explain to people the perfect way of how the use of “othering” is affecting people first hand in todays society. The Chinese people probably do feel like the “other” and outcast right now because of this virus and I’m sure it’s making other disgusting people look at Chinese people in a different light since the beginning of this pandemic.

  9. Hi, Yan
    I enjoyed reading your post-entry. Freedoms of expression are not supposed to be an excuse used to make fun of another country and its people due to spread and outbreak of the corona-virus . People must be aware of the consequences in response to their actions especially at this challenging time of pandemic. It made me feel disappointed that the behaviors of Denmark’s media who made some discriminatory comments toward China and Chinese people by making fun of its flag.

  10. Hi Yan, I agree that this systematic injustice. I agree that they have the right to freedom of speech, but there are just certain things that should be left unsaid. The blame should not be put onto one particular group of people as they will be subjected to the other. It’s unethical to put an article out without caring about the feelings of the people it is pointing toward. An apology should be displayed for the actions of the media during this hard time.

  11. Yan,
    This is a great example of othering. Blaming an entire race and culture over something that was simply out of our hands is unfortunately something we’re witnessing today in the wake of the Coronavirus outbreak. And yes, while freedom of speech is a very powerful right, it’s important to maintain boundaries and ethics. Given the time right now, there’s a lot of fear among the general public. Propaganda and jokes as such do not help the situation and only further perpetuate injustice against a specific group of individuals.

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