Freedom of expression refers to the ability of a person or a group of such persons to express, share and articulate their beliefs, opinions, views, and ideas without the fear of any kind of legal action by the government. Constitutions of many countries have made special provisions for the freedom of expression of their citizens.
Importance of the Freedom of Expression:
- Freedom of Expression is a basic human right. It holds up many other rights and allows them to prosper.
- Freedom of Expression is vital to an individual’s civil liberties.
- It is your right to speak your mind and heart matter-of-factly on key issues concerning the society. It is your right to access information and hence participate in a healthy, developmental process.
- The restrictions on freedom of expression particularly impact the marginalized sections of the society, i.e, minorities, the LGBTQ+ community, and people with disabilities who face discrimination in both developed and developing countries. The range of their struggles is wide, but the underlying principles are the same- their right to freedom of expression is curbed by great societal barriers, unlike the rest. Being excluded from meaningful participation in their respective societies and a lack of opportunities to improve their circumstances, all contribute to their lack of confidence and low self-esteem.
- Free access to a right to expression is vital to support societal development goals.
One of the highlights of a democracy is the freedom of speech and expression. This human right is important as it makes a society democratic. It allows for the open exchange of ideas, opinions, views, and belief systems. Thus, members of society can form their own opinions on key public issues and speak their minds.
Freedom of expression in a democracy paves the way for a healthy and civilized society by allowing:
- Open and free public debates
- Independent journalism and press
- Citizens to stay Informed and aware of the state’s circumstances
- Transparent and efficient functioning of the government in power
A lack of freedom of expression curtails almost all the ways you read, express, and gain knowledge. It encompasses all spaces (public and private), purposes (political, economic, commercial, and personal), forms (text, images, sounds) and media ( social media, television, cinema, radio, newspapers, cartoons etc).
For example, you may be playing music in a public space or wearing a t-shirt that communicates a specific idea. All of this would be problematic and borderline disputable if you didn’t have the freedom of expression.
Restrictions on the Freedom of Expression:
Although the right to expression is broad, this right is not absolute in itself. It is limited to certain situations and circumstances. Article 19(2) imposes certain restrictions on the right to free expression. The reasons behind such restrictions are imposed in the interest of:
- Sovereignty and integrity of the country
- Friendly relations with foreign countries
- Public order
- Decency or morality
- Preventing hate speech
- Contempt of court
The Constitution of the United States of America guarantees people the freedom of free expression without fear of retaliation from the government, but it must be exercised with caution and responsibility. In situations related to the above-mentioned points, the State is allowed to lawfully take action and restrict those expressions that can cause potential harm to the country and its citizens.
However, it has to be noted that any such measure that limits freedom of expression can only be implemented when the valid reasons are clearly stated in the law.
The right to freedom of expression is restricted and does not encompass all expressions. One exception to the freedom of expression is hate speech.
Any statement that spews hate or justifies hatred and violence against a person or a group of persons based on certain elements of race, gender, beliefs, sexual orientation, or ethnic origins, is referred to as hate speech.
Hate speeches are not safeguarded by the right to freedom of expression and are a punishable offense under the law. Hate speeches contradict the basic ideals of democracy and hence the state isn’t forbidden to take legal action to prevent or punish it.
Freedom of Press:
- The World Press Index is a yearly ranking of countries collated and published by ‘Reporters Without Borders’.
- It is based on the organization’s own evaluation of each country’s press freedom information.
- The organization intends to indicate the degree of freedom exercised journalists, news agencies, and netizens of each country and the governmental efforts in these countries to protect their right to freedom.
- All over the world, the press’s right to freedom of expression is threatened by several aggressive regimes and authorities.
The right to freedom of expression is paramount to the media. As a matter of fact, it entitles the media to special duties and privileges.
The media’s job is to inform the people of the country about public interest issues. Therefore, the media creates a significant platform for public scrutiny and discussion. It is essential for media houses to remain independent and maintain the standards of quality journalism.
It is important to note that this is the main reason why media houses are called the watchdogs of democratic societies.