In all democracies, people are said to have freedom of expression. Even authoritarian regimes claim to grant their citizens (at least on paper) some degree of this particular freedom. But it is a poorly understood freedom. Many people don’t really understand what freedom of expression is, how far it stretches (or how far it can be stretched) and what the limitations to it are. That is the gap will be trying to fill in today’s article, as we shed some light on the freedom of expression.
So, what exactly is the freedom of expression? Well, going by international conventions, the freedom of expression seems to have three key pillars. The first of those is where, under the freedom of expression, people have the freedom to seek information or ideas, to receive information or ideas and to impart information or ideas on other people. The second pillar is where, under the freedom of expression, people have freedom to express themselves artistically or generally to practice artistic creativity. The third pillar is where people have academic freedom and freedom to conduct scientific research. So those are the three pillars that underpin the freedom of expression.
Like all other constitutional freedoms, there are limits to the extent to which the freedom of expression can be enjoyed. Thus, for instance, whereas you have freedom to impart ideas/information on others, you must not, in the process, incite them to violence. Neither may you, in the enjoyment of the freedom of expression, go to the extent of engaging in hate speech. Again, in enjoying the freedom of expression, you have to be very careful, not to infringe on other people’s reputations. Therefore, when you take all these caveats into consideration, it becomes clear that the freedom of expression is not an absolute one.
Problems arise when people expect to enjoy their freedom of expression without paying any attention to the limitations that are in place. So in the process, they end up injuring others’ reputations, engaging in hate speech, inciting people… sometimes leading to major legal problems.