Best-selling Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie gives the first of four 2022 Reith Lectures inspired by Franklin D Roosevelt’s “Four Freedoms” speech.

Is freedom of speech under attack? Cancel culture, and arguments about “wokeness” have produced a febrile atmosphere. Meanwhile, autocrats and populists have undermined the very notion of a fact-based truth which lives above politics. So how do we calibrate freedom in this context?

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie explores these themes and more in her BBC Reith Lecture on freedom of speech. Hugh Levinson, BBC Commissioning Editor, said the BBC is “privileged to have one of the world’s great writers addressing this vital question with her characteristic forthrightness, intelligence, candour and wit. Whether you agree or disagree with what Chimamanda has to say, she will make you think hard about what you believe – and don’t be surprised to find yourself quoting her for days and weeks afterwards.”

The lecture and question-and-answer session was recorded in London in front of an audience and it was presented by Anita Anand.

The Reith Lectures were inaugurated in 1948 by the BBC to mark the historic contribution made to public service broadcasting by Lord Reith, the corporation’s first director-general. John Reith maintained that broadcasting should be a public service which enriches the intellectual and cultural life of the nation. It is in this spirit that the BBC each year invites a leading figure to deliver a series of lectures on radio. The aim is to advance public understanding and debate about significant issues of contemporary interest. The very first Reith lecturer was the philosopher, Bertrand Russell who spoke on ‘Authority and the Individual’. Most recently, the Reith Lecturers have been theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, philosophy professor Kwame Anthony Appiah, Booker-winning novelist Hilary Mantel, and former Governor of the Bank of England Mark Carney.

This year the Reith Lectures features four different lectures which are inspired by President Franklin D Roosevelt’s four freedoms speech of 1941 and ask what this terrain means now. In addition to Freedom of Speech by Adichie, Freedom of Worship will be given by former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, while Darren McGarvey and Fiona Hill will lecture on Freedom from Want and Freedom from Fear.

Mohit Bakaya, Controller of BBC Radio 4, said: “Freedom is one of the defining values of our age. Chimamanda carefully explores why freedom of speech is under threat, why it needs to be protected, and its importance to the creative imagination. I’m delighted that Chimamanda is giving the first of this year’s BBC Radio 4 Reith Lectures.”

The Reith Lectures: Freedom of Speech by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was broadcast on BBC Radio 4 and the World Service on Wednesday 30 November, and is now available on BBC Sounds.


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