Freedom of speech is a right to communicate ideas and opinions to every citizen of the nation without government intervention; illustrate and explain.
Speech is God’s gift to mankind. Through speech a human being conveys his thoughts, sentiments and feeling to others. Freedom of speech and expression is thus a natural right, which a human being acquires on birth. It is, therefore, a basic right. Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; the right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek and receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers. John Stuart Mill stated that, “. . . there ought to exist the fullest liberty of professing and discussing, as a matter of ethical conviction, any doctrine, however immoral it might be considered”. So, we cannot deny the fact that, there should be restrictions to an extent that is for the betterment of the state, citizens and different ethnic and minority groups. Moreover, there is a gray line between freedom and restriction; especially, in the ground of speech and expression. If the line cannot be made distinctive through constitution and enactment of law, the true democracy will never ever be achieved. Because, limiting the freedom of speech and expression for the betterment of a small group is one of the key hindrances in the way of democracy.
Freedom of speech: Freedom of speech is a right to communicate ideas and opinions to every citizen of the nation without government intervention. All the democratic countries of the world provide similar right to their respective citizens for an unhindered expression of views and opinions. Civil right of freedom of speech is the backbone of every democratic society and without this right any democracy will deteriorate into an autocracy speedily. United States guarantees freedom of speech by the enactment of the Amendment to the constitution. It guarantees the freedom to communicate ideas and opinions to every citizen of the United States without government intervention. Bangladeshi constitution also guarantees the freedom of speech.
Freedom of expression:
Freedom of expression means the right to express one’s ideas and opinions freely through speech, writing, and other forms of communication but without deliberately causing harm to others’ character and/or reputation by false or misleading statements. Freedom of press is part of freedom of expression.
Freedom of expression has four broad special purposes to serve:
1) It helps an individual to attain self-fulfillment.
2) It assists in the discovery of truth.
3) It strengthens the capacity of an individual in participating in decision-making.
4) It provides a mechanism by which it would be possible to establish a reasonable balance between stability and social change.
5) All members of society would be able to form their own beliefs and communicate them freely to others.
Importance of freedom of speech and freedom of expression:
The importance of free speech as a basic and valuable characteristic of modern society cannot be underestimated. As well as emphasizing the value of free speech, it is proposed to make an evaluation of some of the traditional restrictions on what may be freely said or published, such as the defamation laws, contempt of court, national security and so on. The approach is one which makes the case for free speech, since the world is now a place where people’s unfettered freedoms are by and large in retreat. One of the difficulties inherent in discussing freedom of speech is that it contains what libertarians often describe as the paradox of freedom. On a more practical plane, freedom of speech serves many functions. One of its most important functions is that decision-making at all levels is preceded by discussion and consideration of a representative range of views. Freedom of speech is also important to governments because when criticisms of a government are freely voiced, the government has the opportunity to respond to answer unfair comments and criticisms about its actions.
Finally, the freedom of speech is the single most important political right of citizens; although private without this freedom it is futile to expect political freedom or consequently economic freedom. The sine qua non of a democratic society is the freedom of speech.
Rights entailed in the constitution:
In the context of the Constitution of Bangladesh, freedom of speech and expression are constrained to some extent. But, before describing about the constraints we need to look around the areas where the freedom is given.
Freedom in electronic media: The Supreme Court widened the scope and extent of the right to freedom of speech and expression and held that the government has no monopoly on electronic media and a citizen has a right to telecast and broadcast to the viewers/listeners through electronic media.
Commercial advertisements: Under the Bangladesh Broadcasting Act, 2003 commercial speech (advertisement) is a part of the freedom of speech and expression. The court however made it clear that the government could regulate the commercial advertisements, which are deceptive, unfair, misleading and untruthful.
Telephone tapping: The present Telecommunication (Amendment) Act 2006 has provided the Government irrational power to invade privacy of the people. Section 97 A has been inserted in addition to section 97 of the Act which states that for the security of the state and public tranquility, the Government can empower any of its agencies to record, prevent and collect information regarding communications made by any person through telephone
Freedom of press: Article 39 (2) of Bangladesh constitution guarantees (a) the right of every citizen to freedom of speech and expression and (b) freedom of the press, there are 20 constraining laws, including Official Secrets Act, designed to repress freedom of expression.The fundamental right of the freedom of presses implicit in the right the freedom of speech and expression, is essential for the political liberty and proper functioning of democracy.
Right to information: A citizen has a fundamental right to use the best means of imparting and receiving information and as such to have an access to telecasting for the purpose. The Right to Information Act was notified in the Bangladesh Gazette on Monday, 6 April, 2009. The Act makes provisions for ensuring free flow of information and people’s right to information. The freedom of thought, conscience and speech is recognized in the Constitution as a fundamental right and the right to information is an alienable part of it. The right to information shall ensure that transparency and accountability in all public, autonomous and statutory organizations.
Grounds of Restrictions:
Security of state: Under the section 97 of the Constitution reasonable restrictions can be imposed on fredom of speech and expression in the interest of security of State. The term “security of state” refers only to serious and aggravated forms of public order e.g. rebellion, waging war against the State, insurrection and not ordinary breaches of public order and public safety, e.g. unlawful assembly, riot, affray. Thus speeches or expression on the part of an individual, which incite to or encourage the commission of violent crimes, such as, murder are matters, which would undermine the security of State.
3) Public order: This ground was added by the Constitution (First Amendment) Act. Anything that disturbs public tranquility or public peace disturbs public order. Thus communal disturbances and strikes promoted with the sole object of accusing unrest among workmen are offences against public order. Thus a law punishing utterances made with the deliberate intention to hurt the religious feelings of any class of persons is valid because it imposes a restriction on the right of free speech in the interest of public order since such speech or writing has the tendency to create public disorder even if in some case those activities may not actually lead to a breach of peace. But there must be reasonable and proper nexus or relationship between the restrictions and the achievements of public order.
Decency or morality: The words ‘morality or decency’ are words of wide meaning.
Sections 18 of the Bangladesh Constitution impose restrictions on the freedom of speech and expression in the interest of decency or morality. These sections prohibit the sale or distribution or exhibition of obscene words, etc. in public places. No fix standard is laid down till now as to what is moral and indecent. The standard of morality varies from time to time and from place to place.
Contempt of court: Restriction on the freedom of speech and expression can be imposed if it exceeds the reasonable and fair limit and amounts to contempt of court. According to the Section 2 ‘Contempt of court’ may be either ‘civil contempt’ or ‘criminal contempt.’
Defamation: A statement, which injures a man’s reputation, amounts to defamation. Defamation consists in exposing a man to hatred, ridicule, or contempt. The civil law in relating to defamation is still unmodified in Bangladesh and subject to certain exceptions.
Incitement to an offence: Under this ground freedom of speech and expression cannot confer a right to incite people to commit offence. The word ‘offence’ is defined as any act or omission made punishable by law for the time being in force.
Restrictions on the freedom of press: Unlike the American Constitution, Art. 19(1)(a) of the Bangladeshi Constitution does not expressly mention the liberty of the press. The specific areas of restrictions are related to the security of the state, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, decency or morality or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence. Article 78 also deserves reference because it describes the privileges. Under the Special Powers Act of 1974, the Government may detain any journalist for six months without trial in prison.
Sedition: As understood by English law, sedition embraces all those practices whether by words, or writing which are calculated to disturb the tranquility of the State and lead ignorant person to subvert the government.
Analysis of findings:
My findings are based on the knowledge of secondary data like journal, article, internet and The Constitution of Bangladesh. In addition to that I have tried to incorporate my knowledge from the course Law-200.
The Constitution of Bangladesh provides freedom of speech and expression to a limit that does not affect the security of the state, ethics and morality and the custom of other minority. But there are areas where we are still lacking behind in ensuring freedom of speech and expression to exercise better democracy. Press and electronic media are still constrained to telecast any news that is against government but betterment for the general people. In the name of tracking phone call, political parties most of the time use it for their own political purpose. Commercial advertisements, taking the advantage of freedom of speech and expression, are telecasting advertisements which are offensive on ethics and moral ground. People’s right to know has been restricted by poor dissemination of information and corrupted bureaucratic system.
Finally, the ground of freedom of speech and expression is not well defined in our constitution. There are still areas where there is conflict of interest between different parties.
Electronic and press media should be allowed to express views about different activities of the government. Criticism against government activities are for their own benefit and it is the right in a democratic country.
Tracking phone call should not be used for political purpose and the permission of the respective body has to be taken before tracking phone.
Information has to be made available to general people; specially, regarding government activities so that transparency can be ensured. It is possible by making the information less costly and time effective. Information should be disseminated in a way that does not carry any threat to the security of the state.
More restriction can be put on the language of commercial advertise to make sure that the freedom of speech and expression is for the betterment of all people regardless of the class.
It can be easily concluded that right to freedom of speech and expression is one of the most important fundamental right. It includes circulating one’s views by words or in writing or through audiovisual instrumentalities, through advertisements and through any other communication channel. It also comprises of right to information, freedom of press etc.
On the other hand It can also be comprehended that public order holds a lot of significance as a ground of restriction on this fundamental right. But there should be reasonable and proper nexus or relationship between the restriction and achievement of public order. The words ‘in the interest of public order’ include not only utterances as are directly intended to lead to disorder but also those that have the tendency to lead to disorder.
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