NPR president discusses freedom of speech at forum

The Aquinas Photo / Brigid Campbell  NATIONAL PUBLIC Radio President Kevin Klose speaks during the University for a Day lecture series. Klose discussed social media and freedom of speech.

The Aquinas Photo / Brigid Campbell
NATIONAL PUBLIC Radio President Kevin Klose speaks during the University for a Day lecture series. Klose discussed social media and freedom of speech.

Brigid Campbell
Web Manager, Campus Liaison

Truth in journalism, freedom of speech and social media were among topics discussed by Former National Public Radio President Kevin Klose at Saturday’s University for a Day program.

Klose worked as a writer and editor for the Washington Post for 25 years, before becoming president of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. In 1998 he became president of NPR, where he remained until 2008.

Klose noted that Twitter has become a forum for news, which offers unprecedented ease of use. He also said that Twitter offers an open platform for uncensored news. Klose also discussed the haphazard approach with which members of new generations interact in the media.

“They use [social media] to go to the world without any thought to what it might mean tomorrow, in the next minute, or in the next epoch of their lives,” he stated. “It spreads access wider. And it engages.”

While speaking about his most recent travel to countries such as Russia, Czech Republic, Ukraine and Azerbaijan, Klose also emphasized that not all nations enjoy the same uncontested freedom of speech that Americans do.

“I saw again, in new ways, the things that stand in the way of individuals in their lives as they try to make their way in the world, and try to compare that … with complete freedom of speech,” he stated.

Klose took what he called an “existential approach” to freedom of speech and the connection he sees to the pursuit of happiness.

“With freedom of speech comes the others: Freedom of worship, freedom not to speak, freedom to speak what I think, freedom to disagree with what you think. Those freedoms are essential to finding happiness,” he stated. “No one, in this room or anywhere, can tell us what our definition of happiness is. The possibility of getting there is only enhanced by one sure thing, which is freedom of speech.”

Klose said he found himself surprised by how unwilling people were to voice their own opinions when he arrived in the Soviet Union in the early 1970’s.

One experience that resonated with him was a trip to Donetsk, Ukraine, where he lived briefly with a Ukrainian friend who worked as a coal miner. The miner, despite having been previously detained in a notorious Soviet labor camp, maintained his work as an activist for workers’ rights. Klose said he appreciated the opportunity to visit the mineshaft and to meet other miners, though they were less willing to share their own experiences.

“What I hadn’t realized was how uneasy people were, and the courage of individuals, not to be intimidated… Like lights going on in darkness, those who speak the truth,” he said. “If you were to go to Moscow tomorrow… It looks like something that’s familiar, but what you can’t see is [the silence].”

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