The front line of free speech

Beyond parrhêsia in Finland's migrant debate

by HARRI ENGLUND

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Among Finland's public-service broadcasters, there is a contrast between professional ethics and the “fearless speech” of parrhêsia. This contrast reveals some of the diverse forms in which free speech is pursued in contemporary liberal polities. In 2015, Kansanradio (The people's radio), a popular Finnish radio show, became a site for fresh controversies over free speech when the so-called migrant crisis dominated its discussions. Caught between the parrhêsia of public intellectuals and bigoted listeners, Kansanradio’s hosts pursued a dialogical approach to truth telling. Whereas parrhêsia risks the relationship between interlocutors, this dialogical modality rests on a carefully cultivated multivocality of viewpoints. It challenges the assumption—common to both the scholarship on parrhêsia and some (but not all) liberal orientations—that voice is a person's private property.

Olli Haapakangas (foreground) and Jaana Selin, the hosts of Finland's popular Kansanradio radio program, prepare for a broadcast in Selin's office in 2015.
Olli Haapakangas (foreground) and Jaana Selin, the hosts of Finland's popular Kansanradio radio program, prepare for a broadcast in Selin's office in 2015. (Harri Englund)