The right to freedom of expression is recognized as a human right-illustrate and explain.
Freedom of speech is the freedom to speak freely without any restrictions from any individual, group, race, government, media or any other groups. The term freedom of expression is sometimes used to mean the same but it involves acts of seeking, receiving and imparting information and ideas, ignoring the medium used, that is public speech, news paper, articles, magazines or any public protests or seminars. In reality the right to freedom of speech is not absolute in any country and the right is commonly subject to limitations, such as on libel, slander, obscenity, incitement to commit a crime, etc.
The right to freedom of expression is recognized as a human right under Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and recognized in international human rights law in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Article 19 of the ICCPR states that "everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference" and "everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice".
It further informs us that the exercise of these rights carry special duties and responsibilities and hence could be subject to certain restrictions, when necessary "for respect of the rights or reputation of others" or "for the protection of national security or of public order (order public), or of public health or morals".
Importance of Freedom of Speech and Expression
Practically freedom of speech serves many functions. One of its most essential functions is that decision-making at each segment is followed by discussion and consideration of a diplomatic range of ideas. Decisions are only made after adequate consultation and discussion, hence it is certain that better solutions are to be executed, which is less likely to cause arguments and would be approved by all. Thus freedom of speech is important at all levels in society. It is most important for government as well. A government which does not know what the people feel and think is in a dangerous position. Government that restricts free speech runs a risk of destroying the creative instincts of its people.
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. On the other hand, when freedom of speech is restricted, rumors, unfair criticisms, comments and absolutely false claims are circulated by word of mouth. These spreading of false facts and rumors quickly spread throughout the country through conversation and secretly distributed writings. Government is in no position to answer these views, because they are not publicly stated. It is in a government's interest to have criticisms in the public arena where it can answer its critics and correct its mistakes. The government generally has access to electronic and printing communication far in excess of individuals and groups. It is able to present its view only if the opposing views are in the open and known.
History: Right to freedom of speech and expression.
The ideas and concept of freedom of speech was found in early human rights documents. England’s Bill of Rights 1689 granted 'freedom of speech in Parliament' and the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, adopted during the French Revolution in 1789, specifically affirmed freedom of speech as an inalienable right. The Declaration provides for freedom of expression in Article 11, which states that, "The free communication of ideas and opinions is one of the most precious of the rights of man. Every citizen may, accordingly, speak, write, and print with freedom, but shall be responsible for such abuses of this freedom as shall be defined by law."
It is stated in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted in 1948, "Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers." Freedom of speech is considered as a multi- purpose or multi dimensional right which provides the right not only to express or spread information and ideas, but also defines three other crucial aspects of human rights and democracy:
- The right to seek information and ideas
- The right to receive information and ideas and
- The right to impart information and ideas.
International, regional and national standards also recognize that freedom of speech, as the freedom of expression but it includes any medium be it orally, in written, in print, through the internet or through art forms. Thus it also means that the protection of freedom of speech as a right includes not only the content but also includes expression.
One of the most critical but important questions public faces is, if freedom is not absolute, then why would there be limitations of drawbacks to it. Some points that could be looked into justify the lack of convenience and to put limitation on freedom of speech are discussed below.
- Freedom of speech is not absolute.
Whatever has been said verbally or through protest might mean exactly how it has been stated. Hence freedom of speech and expression has the possibility of being misinterpreted or misunderstood.
- Society and the legal system recognize limits on the freedom of speech. Sometimes it is difficult for a society to deal with an individual or group who use their right to freedom of speech to vandalize the reputation of an entire society or family. This creates problems within society and neighborhood. Where a small group may create a stereotypical idea about any society, creating an ill reputation.
- Issues arise in which freedom of speech conflicts with other values.
Sometimes there are religious, ethnic or cultural issues that arise and conflict with modern day’s rights providing every individual to express themselves. It leads to a conflict amongst generations, cultural, traditional and religious beliefs and practices. Thus freedom of speech has lead to bans on certain magazines, books, films, songs etc where an act of an individual was not acceptable in a society or state.
Restrictions that can be imposed on “freedom of speech and expression”.
1) Security of State:
Reasonable restrictions can be imposed on freedom of speech and expression in the interest of security of State. The term "security of state" refers only to serious and provoked forms of public order e.g. rebellion, waging war against the State, revolution and not ordinary breaches of public order and public safety, e.g. unlawful assembly, riot, affray. Thus freedom of expression and speech can be restricted in due circumstances.
2) Friendly relations with foreign states:
This ground was added by the constitution (First Amendment) Act, 1951. The object behind the provision is to prohibit unrestrained nasty misinformation against a foreign friendly state, which may endanger the good relations between countries.
3) Public Order:
This ground was added by the Constitution (First Amendment) Act. 'Public order' is an expression of wide connotation and signifies "that state of tranquility which prevails among the members of political society as a result of internal regulations enforced by the Government which they have established."
Public order is something more than the regular maintenance of law and order. 'Public order' is defines the terms in relation to public peace, safety and tranquility. It provides us with distinct view in determining whether an act affects law and order or leads to disturbances of the current of life of the community.
4) 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.'
A statement, which injures a man's reputation, amounts to defamation. Defamation consists in exposing a man to hatred, mockery, or disrespect.
6) Incitement to an offence:
This ground was also added by the constitution (First Amendment) Act, 1951. Obviously, 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.
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.
The concept of freedom of information has also taken a different twist in response to state financed censorship, monitoring and surveillance of the internet. Internet censorship includes the control of publishing or accessing of information on the internet. The G.I.F.C claims to remove blocks to the "free flow of information" for what they term "closed societies". According to the R.S.B "internet enemy list" the following states engage in pervasive internet censorship: China, Cuba, Iran, Myanmar/Burma, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Vietnam.
A widely publicized example of internet censorship is the "Great Firewall of China" (in reference both to its role as a network firewall and to the ancient Great Wall of China). The system blocks content and consist of standard firewall and proxy servers at the internet gateways. Internet censorship in the People's Republic of China is conducted under a wide variety of laws and administrative regulations. In accordance with these laws, more than sixty Internet regulations have been made by the P.R.C government, and censorship systems are vigorously implemented by provincial branches of state-owned ISPs, business companies, and organizations.
The simplest justification on restrictions upon the liberty of individuals is equal to interfering or surpassing the interest of efficient government and public benefit. It is quite easily overlooked that what forms "efficient government" and "public benefit" are one-sided concepts, the interpretation of which will be in the hands of legislators, bureaucrats and judges with human failings and feelings, lack of vision, imperfect knowledge and understanding, subjective views and personal prejudices.
However, while public benefit is an important factor, the test for allowing further restrictions upon freedom of speech should strive to be somewhat strict. Legal restraints upon individual freedom of speech should only be tolerated where it would be necessary to prevent infliction of actual harm or to secure the liberties of others.
A balance must be created between the ability of individuals to be unrestricted in the free expression of thoughts and ideas, and the need to ensure that governments are able to efficiently carry out their function of administration, law and order, and preserving the rights of individuals.
i. Wright G.R, The Future of Free Speech and Law
ii. Bracken H.M, Freedom of Speech Word is not Deeds.