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June 10th, 2008
Exploring Freedom of Expression

Prep for Teachers

Prior to teaching, bookmark all of the Web sites used in the lesson and create a Microsoft Word document with all of the Web sites as hyperlinks for the students to access the sites. Make sure that your computer and the computer the students will be using have the necessary media players to play any video clips. These are Shockwave, Real Video, and Quicktime. Cue any videotapes to the segment(s) you plan on using to support your lesson. When using media, provide students with a focus for media interaction, a specific task to complete and/or information to identify during or after viewing of video segments, Web sites, or other multimedia elements.

Introductory Activity

What is freedom of expression, and how does freedom of expression play a role in a country and its people’s safety, security, and growth? And how does a country’s position on freedom of expression affect their role in the global community?

Step 1:
Explain to your students that you will be examining freedom of expression. Ask your students to brainstorm a definition for freedom of expression, as well as to create a short list of types of expression of which they are currently aware. Have them record their ideas individually or in small groups or teams. Then have the students share their definitions and forms of expression during an open classroom discussion. Write the students’ responses on your blackboard, whiteboard, or poster paper. Make sure that your discussion addresses some of these questions:

  • What is expression?
  • What types of forms can expression take?
  • Is restricting freedom of expression ever justified?
  • Are there types of expression that are dangerous? Explain.
  • What factors might play a role in determining what types of expression are dangerous (access to resources/wealth, social status, type of government, gender etc.)? Explain.
  • Who should determine what constitutes dangerous expression?
  • Do countries have different definitions of freedom of expression?
  • Do different states in the U.S. have different guidelines for what can be written, broadcast, etc.?

Using the information gathered above, as a class develop your own class definition of expression and its various forms. Also come to a consensus on what it means to have freedom of expression and what factors help determine what types of expression could be dangerous to a person, community, government, or country. Explain.

Suggested Web sites for general information regarding freedom of expression:

Learning Activities

General Freedom of Expression Research based on the Russian Journalist Murders and a United States freedom of expression case, “Barry Elton Black vs. Virginia”, involving cross burning.

Ask students in what ways do they hear about freedom of expression in the news today. Make sure to reference the introductory discussion list you created as a class.

Provide students with a focus for media interaction, asking them to read and outline the general facts and information available. Students may take notes on the Student Worksheet #1. Through this activity students will begin to understand some of the challenges that are faced when examining issues of freedom of expression. Students may need assistance understanding some of the legal language used in determining the main ideas, so it may be helpful to complete one or two examples together.

After students have completed taking notes, check for understanding. Specifically, begin to prepare students for the more in-depth research they will be conducting during the culminating activity.

Divide the class into two groups: one that will focus on the Russian Journalist Murders and one that will focus on the burning of the cross in Virginia.

Have the students begin by looking up Article 19 of the “Universal Declaration of Human Rights”. Using the UNDHR definition, have them begin reading about the Russian Journalist Murders and the burning of the cross in Virginia. (At this time they should just be gathering quick notes and ideas. There will be more time during the Culminating Activity for them to collect more details and information.)

Russian Journalist Web resources:

US Cross Burning Case Web resources:

Culminating Activity

Step 1:

As a class, review what the “Universal Declaration of Human Rights” — Article 19 states regarding freedom of expression.

Have your students divide back into their research groups: one group focusing on the Russian Journalist Murders and Freedom of Speech paying particular attention to the press and media, and the other group considering Freedom of Speech paying particular attention to the cross burning case in Virginia.

Give each group more research time to prepare a presentation and a position using the Internet and any other research materials you may have gathered during the learning activity. Be sure to give them a focus for media interaction based on their particular topic. For example, what did the Supreme Court state as the reason for allowing the cross burning in the case of Black vs. Virginia?

Have each group of students write a summary of facts and information based on their research focus. They will be using their research to support to the class their position regarding freedom of expression in regards to either the Russian Murder cases or the burning of the cross in Virginia.

Be sure to ask the students to think about the global issues involved. For example, how have the murders of Russian journalist affected journalists in other countries? Has it? And how does the Virginia cross burning case in the United States affect global freedom of expression issues? How does the United States’ First Amendment relate to the United Nations Article 19?

Step 2:

When the students have completed their research, ask them to present the information and facts to the other group of students. Have them first give an explanation of the case(s) they were researching, of what the major freedom of expression issues involved were, and of how they gathered their information. What sources did they use? Were they able to find ample information and resources?

Have each group state what they determined regarding freedom of expression through their research projects.

Possible Questions to Pose:

Russian Journalist Group:

  • Do the students feel that Russian Journalists are being murdered because of what they are writing?
  • Do the students feel that the government is or was involved in any way in threatening or censoring what Russian journalists investigate and report?

US Cross Burning Case:

  • Do the students agree with the Supreme Court’s decision? Why or why not?
  • How does the Supreme Court’s decision fit into the global definition of freedom of expression used in the UNDHR’s Article 19?
  • Does or should the U.S. First Amendment play a role in the global community’s discussion of freedom of expression? Why or why not?

Step 3:

Now that your students have had time to investigate free press issues on their own, have them view the host interview with Ann Cooper, the Executive Director of the Committee to Protect Journalists, in which she discusses with host Mishal Husain threats to free press in Russia and elsewhere. The interview can be found on the WIDE ANGLE Web site under the link for “The Russian Newspaper Murders”.

After the students have watched the interview, ask them to compare Ann Cooper’s opinions with their own regarding issues of free press.

Did Ms. Cooper’s opinions change any of the student’s ideas regarding free press? How or why?

Did the interview with Ann Cooper raise issues for the students that they had not thought of before they listened to the interview?

Step 4:

Following the presentations, allow students to ask questions and debate as a class the information they were presented.

Use the definition of freedom of expression that the class developed in the introductory activity and create a new definition if needed.

Now that your class has a strong understanding of freedom of expression, have them view the “The Russian Newspaper Murders”.

Give them the focus for media interaction. In this film, how does the filmmaker investigate freedom of expression in Russia, and how is the Russian government addressing the murders of the journalists?

WIDE ANGLE: “The Russian Newspaper Murders”

Cross Curricular Extensions

  • Freedom of expression and the Internet — design a Web site
  • Journalism — writing for the student newspaper
  • Mock trial — take the discussion further by creating a mock trial in your classroom.Mock trial information can be found at the American Bar Association Web site

Community Connections

Contact local organizations that are involved in changing local and country-specific freedom of expression policies. A number of national organizations, such as Reporters Without Borders, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and the United Nations, have activities specifically designed to inform students about how to take an active role in changing country policies.

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