The Freedom of Speech

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Dr Ion Jinga Headshot Thoughts by Ambassador, Permanent Representative of Romania to the United Nations, New York, published in Huffington Post on 09/03/2015.

In her biography of Voltaire (The Friends of Voltaire, published in 1906), Evelyn Beatrice Hall wrote the following: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it” (which is often misattributed to Voltaire himself) as an illustration of Voltaire’s beliefs. Hall’s quotation is often cited to describe the principle of freedom of speech.

I am a great supporter of this fundamental principle of democracy and I expect it is exercised in good faith and without deliberately distorting the obvious truth. An article published on 8 March by the Daily Mail, with the title “Romanian fury over Channel 4 documentary as their MPs ask: What if we made a programme saying all Brits were alcoholics and paedophiles?” doesn’t make me question the principle, but the author’s good faith and respect for the truth.

I was shocked to read in the above mentioned article that : “Ion Jinga, the Romanian ambassador in London, wrote to Channel 4 asking what the reaction would be if they made a programme saying all Brits were alcoholics and paedophiles. In a letter seen by The Observer, Mr Jinga said: ‘We kindly ask you to consider what your reaction would be if TVR, the Romanian public television channel, would launch a campaign of denigration pointed towards the British citizens in our country, generalising cases of alcoholism and paedophilia displayed by some British citizens (cases we are sure you are aware of), and turning them into the general image of all British citizens in Romania.

These phrases are completely untrue, because none of them can be found in any of my letters or statements. On 13 February (four days before the first episode of “Romanians are Coming” was broadcast by Channel 4), I wrote to the producer to express surprise and disappointment at the way the Romanian community living in the UK was presented in the trailer.

The Observer never said it saw a letter from me referring to British citizens living in Romania. In fact, its article published on 7 March 2015, “Romanian ambassador bitter over C4’s migrant series” tells that:

“Ion Jinga, the Romanian ambassador in London, has written to the producers of the three-part series accusing them of reinforcing negative stereotypes. The ambassador complained that the programme has “ignored the fact that, in their overwhelming majority, Romanians living in Britain are well integrated into the local society”. He further claims that there are more than 4,000 Romanian doctors and nurses in Britain.

Meanwhile three members of the Romanian parliament have written to the British ambassador in Bucharest to claim that the channel was inciting hatred and discrimination. […]”

I am not aware if Romanian MPs sent a letter to my friend the British ambassador in Bucharest and I never comment on something I do not know. In order to make it all crystal clear, the only comments the Embassy of Romania made after the documentary film was broadcast, which are available on our website, were:

“The Romanian Embassy in London cannot comment on the opinions and life experiences of people presented in the first episode. Both the narrator and the characters in the documentary are Romanian citizens who tell their life stories, which are often sad and touching. The Embassy considers, however, that this first episode is not representative for the Romanian community in the UK, as it illustrates only a small social segment. In their overwhelming majority the Romanian citizens are well integrated into British society and appreciated by the British employers for their professionalism and work ethic. In the context of broadcasting this series, we hope that the next episodes will present a balanced and more representative picture of the entire Romanian community in the UK. The Embassy of Romania in London thanks all Romanian citizens who by their example help to promote a correct image of our community in the UK.”

Since I deeply believe that the freedom of speech is sacrosanct, I would highly appreciate a correction of the Daily Mail article (if not an apology).