U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama delivered an impassioned speech against censorship at Peking University over the weekend, advocating freedom of expression and information as “universal rights” and stopping just short of openly criticising what has come to be known as the Great Firewall of China. In a goodwill visit that was ostensibly to discuss the benefits of international study programmes, Obama segued into a broader argument for knowledge sharing.
“It is so important for information and ideas to flow freely over the Internet and through the media,” she said. “Because that’s how we discover the truth, that’s how we learn what’s really happening in our communities, in our country and our world.”
Following an introduction by the U.S. Ambassador to China, Max Baucus, who cited various social media platforms as examples of how we are becoming increasingly “interconnected”, Obama made a case for an online world in which all perspectives are represented.
“That’s how we decide which values and ideas we think are best – by questioning and debating them vigorously, by listening to all sides of the argument and by judging for ourselves,” she continued. “And believe me, I know how this can be a messy and frustrating process. My husband and I are on the receiving end of plenty of questioning and criticism from our media and our fellow citizens, and it’s not always easy, but we wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.”
Having a voice both online and offline are crucial, Obama added. “Because time and time again, we have seen that countries are stronger and more prosperous when the voices and opinions of all their citizens can be heard. When it comes to expressing yourself freely and worshipping as you choose, and having open access to information – we believe those are universal rights that are the birthright of every person on this planet.”