A technological mishap occurred following French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s recorded discussion with President Obama at the G20. After the taped conversation, the two men continued their talk not realizing that their microphones were still on and reporters were still listening. Now that they were “off the record,” their true feelings were brought to the table. Sarkozy shared his opinion on Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu by saying, “I can’t look at him anymore, he’s a liar.” Obama agreed with his French friend and replied, “You’ve had enough of him, but I have to deal with him everyday.” Their personal opinions then leaked to the Internet and were no longer just their private feelings, and now face international attention.
In this video, you can see multiple scenarios where maybe the microphones should have been turned off and freedom of speech should have been limited for the speaker’s own sake and pride:
The Constitution grants us the rights to freedom of speech and expression, and applies similiarly for freedom of discussion as well. Is there a limit where freedom of discussion ends? Is there a point where discussion should only be free for so long and in private, so that when it crosses into the public domain, officials should be limited for their sake and the sake of their intergovernmental relations? Sure, it can be argued that directly after the conference, the reporters should have turned their microphones off, but should Sarkozy and Obama have limited their remarks too in order to protect their places in world politics?
John Stuart Mill would probably view this situation as a natural part of life that just happened to be released to the public. He argued in this work, On Liberty, that freedom of speech should not be restricted or censored and thus this conversation was something normal that anyone could have had. However, one might argue that given the modern situation in the Middle East, this conversation can have negatives effects after the uplifting G20 discussion about peace in the region. I have the latter viewpoint in that I believe that freedom of speech in this case should be restricted in order to protect the image and message that the two world leaders are giving off about their support of Israel and their hope for the Middle East. In certain cases like this one and those seen in the above video. Mill’s freedom of expression sometimes gets politicians and world leaders into predicaments that cause them to face consequences larger than themselves. Who should bear the consequences of the thoughts expressed by Sarkozy and Obama? Can they be laughed off or is this a larger matter of diplomacy? Should they be held responsible for transgressing from their country’s standpoint and the way they handle Middle Eastern affairs in the public eye?
In the Obama-Sarkozy discussion, like many other political microphone misfortunes, freedom of speech many have gone too far. It not only puts the speakers in an awkward situation when their true emotions are expressed, but it also makes the situation uncomfortable for those who hear it, and the future consequences to world decisions. Should public figures just merely be reminded to keep their discussions more private and be aware of their surroundings better? Or is this a matter of restricting free speech in order to protect the diplomatic relationships between countries?