Espousing freedom of speech, and practising censorship


Karan Thapar
Have you noticed how people you are eager to meet often prove to be disillusioning? Perhaps anticipation builds up huge expectations but they end up less than they originally seemed. Rather than their perceived star qualities it’s their faults and flaws you notice. Consequently, heroes end up with feet of clay.
That happened to me last weekend. I’m writing about it today more out of disappointment than criticism but also because the story could strike a chord with you.
Three weeks ago I was invited to moderate the gala finale of the India Today Conclave with Amal Clooney. The combination of a high-flying internationally acclaimed lawyer and the wife of Hollywood’s leading star was irresistible. I accepted with alacrity. Now let me not mislead you. There’s no doubt Clooney is striking. Though painfully thin she has a presence. I wouldn’t call her beautiful but she is undoubtedly attractive. There’s something about her that makes you want to look again and again.
Additionally, she is soft-spoken, charming and even coy. When she talks about George – and she does it only occasionally and quite reluctantly – there’s a winning bashfulness. It’s almost as if she can’t believe he’s her husband!
Sadly, there is also another side to Amal Clooney. A side that contradicts the freedom of speech she espouses. And it diminishes her.
Clooney’s formal speech to the Conclave was about this topical subject. She spoke about her famous clients, Nasheed, former president of The Maldives; Al Jazeera’s former chief of bureau in Egypt, Mohamed Fahmy; and an Azerbaijani journalist languishing in jail Khadija Ismayilova. Though she didn’t say so, Amal Clooney emerged as the protector of their liberty and, perhaps, their best hope for justice. As she spoke the audience warmed to this self-presentation.
Alas, how different is the reality hidden under the surface which the audience was unaware of. Amal Clooney, though speaking to a television channel conclave, had forbidden the live broadcast of her speech as well as the question and answer session that followed. She also insisted that nothing could be broadcast afterwards without her clearance. That includes the right to edit whatever she was asked or said. In the end nothing of her speech was broadcast and only approximately six minutes of her 30-minute Q&A was permitted to be shown.
This was the extent to which Amal Clooney ‘censored’ the channel that hosted her. Of course, she had a contract that permitted this. So it was her prerogative to exercise these rights and the channel, no doubt, was short-sighted in agreeing to such terms. But the incongruity of a human rights lawyer, who champions freedom of speech, insisting on rigidly restricting the broadcast of what she said was, for me, more damaging than anything else.
The bizarre part is that if Clooney’s speech and Q&A had been broadcast in full – live or afterwards – it would only have added to her image because she handled both with considerable aplomb.
Now, instead of recalling with delight what is probably a once-in-a-life-time experience I feel disillusioned. I didn’t know what to expect of her but it certainly wasn’t this. Who would have believed Amal Clooney, of all people, would twist Voltaire’s dictum into ‘I will fight to the death to ensure you can’t broadcast what I have said unless you let me edit it’?
I guess you could say Amal Clooney preaches freedom of speech but, at least in her own case, practises something closer to censorship.

(HT Media)