Tthere is no pedant who lacks in his mouth that well-known phrase that art is “transgressive” par excellence. It is enough that you put some limit to an artist for him to try to jump over it.
“Rap is a provocative musical modality”, says the dictionary of the Academy of Language and, as we are verifying, in no other country as in Spain has it achieved such overwhelming success: one rapper imprisoned, another exiled and 12 more sentenced to prison terms.
Despite this, all the officialist discourse, starting with the legal and journalistic, is concerned about the opposite: about the limits of freedom of expression. Where are the limits to freedom of expression?
In 2018 the Platform in Defense of the Right to Freedom of Information published an “Emergency guide on the limits to freedom of expression” (1).
The following year a chronicle of “Cuarto Poder” about an event held in Madrid began as follows: “More than twenty collectives, ranging from the Encausados por la Operación Araña to Anticapitalistas Madrid, have filled the hall of the Teatro del Barrio to talk about an issue that raises social concern: the limits to freedom of expression” (2).
Are we really concerned about the limits to freedom of expression or freedom of expression itself?
The impression they convey is that of a “free buffet”: we overindulge in food, we overeat because it is free. We abuse our rights because exercising them has no consequences.
One of the limits that the ignorant want to impose on art is “good taste”, although in reality there are many more limits. When in 2018 they removed Santiago Sierra’s photos of political prisoners from the Arco exhibition, the Minister of Culture and spokesman of the Government, Méndez de Vigo, confessed in the RTVE breakfasts that he likes freedom of expression, but that it is necessary to “make political criticism without offending” (3).
The need for limits is essential in a country -like ours- which is excessively democratic; there is too much freedom and, consequently, limits must be set because this “is getting out of hand”.
This type of approach, which has taken hold in certain media, ignores the historical memory of the 40 years following the 1978 Constitution.
In any case, it is interesting to analyze the famous “limits to freedom of expression” because it is pure dialectics, like looking at the obverse and reverse sides of reality, in the style of the old photographic negatives.
Let’s see: during Franco’s regime, an example of a limit to freedom of expression was Article 12 of the Fuero de los Españoles: “All Spaniards may freely express their ideas as long as they do not violate the fundamental principles of the State”.
The conclusion is obvious to those who speak of limits: since 1945 in Spain we have always enjoyed freedom of expression, naturally limited. Is that what needs to be explained, is that how a fundamental right should be understood?
If so, the conclusion is that under Francoism there was also freedom of expression, as now, despite the fact that thousands of people were arrested and convicted for illegal propaganda, a crime where the important thing was not the propaganda but its illegality, that is, the same pretext as now: under Francoism those who went to jail were not for their political opinions but for infringing the Penal Code.
This is exactly what happened under Franco and this is exactly what happens now: freedom of expression is for some; the limits are for everyone else.
But there are limits and limits. For example, Article 20 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states that war propaganda is a limit to freedom of expression and if we look back to the Trio of the Azores, to the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Syria, nobody remembered then that there was a limit.
Politicians, journalists and talk-show hosts openly crossed the limits of freedom of expression to justify wars that have not yet ended, but no one stopped them, nor judged them, nor condemned them. Then no one remembered the limits.
In 2018 the Ministry of Defense allocated 200,000 euros to subsidize war propaganda, articles in the press and talks in high schools to justify increased budgets for military spending, where there are no cuts.
The same can be said of racism and xenophobia, which are not covered by freedom of expression either.