Freedom of speech

Freedom of speech

"Freedom of speech" is the freedom to speak freely without censorship or limitation. The synonymous term freedom of expression is sometimes used to denote not only freedom of verbal speech but any act of seeking, receiving and imparting information or ideas, regardless of the medium used. Freedom of speech and freedom of expression is closely related to, yet distinct from, the concept of freedom of conscience and freedom of thought. In practice, the right to freedom of speech is not absolute in any country and the right is commonly subject to limitations, such as on "hate speech". This is because exercising freedom of speech always takes place within a context of competing values.

The right to freedom of speech is recognized as human right in 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). The ICCPR recognizes the right to freedom of speech as "the right to hold opinions without interference. Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression". [ [ OHCHR ] ] [ [ Using Courts to Enforce the Free Speech Provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights | Australia & Oceania > Australia & New Zealand from All Business... ] ] Furthermore freedom of speech is recognized in European, inter-American and African regional human rights law.

The right to freedom of speech and expression

Freedom of speech, or the freedom of expression is recognized in international and regional human rights law. The right is enshrined in Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, Article 13 of the American Convention on Human Rights, and Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights.Andrew Puddephatt, Freedom of Expression, The essentials of Human Rights, Hodder Arnold, 2005, pg.128]

The freedom of speech can be found in early human rights documents, such as the British Magna Carta (1215) and "The Declaration of the Rights of Man" (1789), a key document of the French Revolution. [] Based on John Stuart Mill's arguments, freedom of speech today is understood as a multi-faceted right that includes not only the right to express, or disseminate, information and ideas, but three further distinct aspects:
* The right to seek information and ideas;
* the right to receive information and ideas;
* the right to impart information and ideas.

International, regional and national standards also recognise that freedom of speech, as the freedom of expression, includes any medium, be it orally, in written, in print, through the Internet or through art forms. This means that the protection of freedom of speech as a right includes not only the content, but also the means of expression.

Relationship to other rights

The right to freedom of speech are closely related to other rights, and may be limited when conflicting with other rights (see Limitations on freedom of speech). The right to freedom of speech is particularly important for media, which plays a special role as the bearer of the general right to freedom of expression for all (see freedom of the press).

Origins and academic freedom

Freedom of speech and expression has a long history that predates modern international human rights instruments. In Islamic ethics freedom of speech was first declared in the Rashidun period by the caliph Umar in the 7th century.citation|title=On the Probable Influence of Islam on Western Public and International Law|first=Marcel A.|last=Boisard|journal=International Journal of Middle East Studies|volume=11|issue=4|date=July 1980|pages=429-50] In the Abbasid Caliphate period, freedom of speech was also declared by al-Hashimi (a cousin of Caliph al-Ma'mun) in a letter to one of the religious opponents he was attempting to convert through reason. [citation|first=I. A.|last=Ahmad|contribution=The Rise and Fall of Islamic Science: The Calendar as a Case Study|title=“Faith and Reason: Convergence and Complementarity”|Publisher=Al-Akhawayn University|date=June 3, 2002|url= |accessdate=2008-01-31] According to George Makdisi and Hugh Goddard, "the idea of academic freedom" in universities was "modelled on Islamic custom" as practiced in the medieval Madrasah system from the 9th century. Islamic influence was "certainly discernible in the foundation of the first delibrately-planned university" in Europe, the University of Naples Federico II founded by Frederick II, Holy Roman Emperor in 1224. [citation|title=A History of Christian-Muslim Relations|first=Hugh|last=Goddard|year=2000|publisher=Edinburgh University Press|isbn=074861009X|page=100]

Freedom of speech and truth

One of the earliest Western defense of freedom of expression is "Areopagitica" (1644) by the British philosopher John Milton. Milton wrote in reaction to an attempt by the English parliament to prevent "seditious, unreliable, unreasonable and unlicensed pamphlets". Milton advanced a number of arguments in defense of freedom of speech: a nation's unity is created through blending individual differences rather than imposing homogeneity from above; that the ability to explore the fullest range of ideas on a given issue was essential to any learning process and truth cannot be arrived upon unless all points of view are first considered; and that by considering free thought, censorship acts to the detriment of material progress.Milton also argued that if the facts are laid bare, truth will defeat falsehood in open competition, but this cannot be left for a single individual to determine. According to Milton, it is up to each individual to uncover their own truth; no one is wise enough to act as a censor for all individuals. [Andrew Puddephatt, Freedom of Expression, The essentials of Human Rights, Hodder Arnold, 2005, pg.127]

Noam Chomsky states that: "If you believe in freedom of speech, you believe in freedom of speech for views you don't like. [Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda| [Nazi Propaganda Minister] Joseph] Goebbels was in favour of freedom of speech for views he liked. So was [Soviet Union| [Soviet] leader Joseph] Stalin. If you're in favour of freedom of speech, that means you're in favour of freedom of speech precisely for views you despise." [, 1992] An often cited quote that describes the principle of freedom of speech comes from Evelyn Beatrice Hall and is commonly attributed to Voltaire: "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."Fact|date=August 2008

Democracy and Governance

Freedom of speech is crucial in any participatory democracy, because open discussions of candidates are essential for voters to make informed decisions during elections. It is through speech that people can influence their government's choice of policies. Also, public officials are held accountable through criticisms that can pave the way for their replacement. Some suggest that when citizens refrain from voicing their discontent because they fear retribution, the government can no longer be responsive to them, thus it is less accountable for its actions. Defenders of free speech often allege that this is the main reason why governments suppress free speech – to avoid accountability. However, it may be argued that "some" restrictions on freedom of speech may be compatible with democracy or even necessary to protect it. For example, such arguments are used to justify restrictions on the support of Nazi ideas in post-war Germany.

Research conducted over the last decade, like the Worldwide Governance Indicators project at the World Bank, recognizes that freedom of speech, and the process of accountability that follows it, have a significant impact in the quality of governance of a country. "Voice and Accountability" within a country, defined as "the extent to which a country's citizens are able to participate in selecting their government, as well as freedom of expression, freedom of association, and free media" is one of the six dimensions of governance that the Worldwide Governance Indicators measure for more than 200 countries. [ A Decade of Measuring the Quality of Governance]


Professor Lee Bollinger argues that "the free speech principle involves a special act of carving out one area of social interaction for extraordinary self-restraint, the purpose of which is to develop and demonstrate a social capacity to control feelings evoked by a host of social encounters." The free speech principle is left with the concern of nothing less than helping to shape "the intellectual character of the society". In this respect tolerance is a desirable, if not essential, value and protecting unpopular speech is itself an act of tolerance. Such tolerance serves as a model that encourages more tolerance throughout society. Critics argue that society need not be tolerant of the intolerance of others, such as those who advocate great harm, such as genocide. Preventing such harms is claimed to be much more important than being tolerant of those who argue for them. [Lee Bollinger, The Tolerant Society, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1988]

Limitations on freedom of speech

For specific country examples see Freedom of speech by country

The freedom of speech is not absolute. Legal systems, and society at large, recognize limits on the freedom of speech, particularly when freedom of speech conflicts with other values or rights. [ [ When May Speech Be Limited?] ] Exercising freedom of speech always takes place within a context of competing values. Limitations to freedom of speech may follow the "harm principle" or the "offense principle", for example in the case of pornography or "hate speech". [ [ Freedom of Speech (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy) ] ] Limitations to freedom of speech may occure through legal sanction and/or social disapprobation. [ Freedom of Speech] ]

In "On Liberty" (1859) John Stuart Mill argued that "...there ought to exist the fullest liberty of professing and discussing, as a matter of ethical conviction, any doctrine, however immoral it may be considered." Mill argues that the fullest liberty of expression is required to push arguments to their logical limits, rather than the limits of social embarrassment. However, Mill also introduced what is known as the harm principle, in placing the following limitation on free expression: "the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others."

In 1985 Joel Feinberg introduced what is known as the "offence principle", arguing that Mill's harm principle does not provide sufficient protection against the wrongful behaviours of others. Feinberg wrote "It is always a good reason in support of a proposed criminal prohibition that it would probably be an effective way of preventing serious offense (as opposed to injury or harm) to persons other than the actor, and that it is probably a necessary means to that end." [ Philosophy of Law] ] Hence Feinberg argues that the harm principle sets the bar too high and that some forms of expression can be legitimately prohibited by law because they are very offensive. But, as offending someone is less serious than harming someone, the penalties imposed should be higher for causing harm. In contrast Mill does not support legal penalties unless they are based on the harm principle. Because the degre to which people may take offense varies, or may be the result of unjustified prejudice, Feinberg suggests that a number of factors need to be taken into account when applying the offense principle, including: the extent, duration and social value of the speech, the ease with which it can be avoided, the motives of the speaker, the number of people offended, the intensity of the offense, and the general interest of the community at large.

Liberal democracies have varying approaches to balance the right of freedom of speech with other values and principles. For instance, the United States First Amendment theoretically grants absolute freedom, placing the burden upon the state to demonstrate when (if) a limitation of this freedom is necessary. Many liberal democracies recognized that restrictions should be the exception and free expression the rule.Fact|date=August 2008

The Internet

International, regional and national standards recognise that freedom of speech, as the freedom of expression, applies to any medium, including the Internet.

The development of the Internet opened new possibilities for achieving freedom of speech using methods that do not depend on legal measures. Pseudonymity and data havens (such as Freenet) allow free speech, as the technology guarantees that material cannot be removed (censored). A gripe site is one of the latest forms of exercising free speech on the Internet.Fact|date=September 2008

Internet censorship

The concept of freedom of information has emerged in response to state sponsored censorship, monitoring and surveillance of the internet. Internet censorship includes the control or suppression of the publishing or accessing of information on the Internet.Fact|date=September 2008 The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is an organization dedicated to protecting freedom of speech on the Internet. The Open Net Initiative (ONI) is a collaboration between the Citizen Lab at the Munk Centre for International Studies, the University of Toronto, the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School, the Advanced Network Research Group at the Cambridge Security Programme (University of Cambridge), and the Oxford Internet Institute, at Oxford University which aims to investigate, expose, and analyze Internet filtering and surveillance practices in a credible and non-partisan fashion.Fact|date=September 2008 Groups such as the Global Internet Freedom Consortium advocate for freedom of information for what they term "closed societies". [cite web |url= |title=Mission| publisher =Global Internet Freedom Consortium |accessdate=2008-07-29]

Websites may be censored in the country where the website host is located line with existing limitations on freedom of speech, such as hate speech. Such websites frequently re-host on a server in a country with less restrictions, remaining available in countries with more severe restrictions on freedom of speech.Fact|date=September 2008

According to the Reporters without Borders (RSF) "internet enemy list" the following states engage in pervasive internet censorship: Cuba, Iran, Maldives, Myanmar/Burma, North Korea, Syria, Tunisia, Uzbekistan and Vietnam. [ List of the 13 Internet enemies] RSF, 2006 November] A widely publicised example 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 by preventing IP addresses from being routed through and consists of standard firewall and proxy servers at the Internet gateways. The system also selectively engages in DNS poisoning when particular sites are requested. The government does not appear to be systematically examining Internet content, as this appears to be technically impractical. [cite web|url=,,1713317,00.html|title=War of the words |publisher=The Guardian] 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 People's Republic of China (PRC) government, and censorship systems are vigorously implemented by provincial branches of state-owned ISPs, business companies, and organizations. [cite web|url=|title= II. How Censorship Works in China: A Brief Overview|accessdate= 2006-08-30|accessmonthday= |accessyear= |author= |last= |first= |authorlink= |coauthors= |date= |year= |month= |format= |work= |publisher=Human Rights Watch |archivedate=] [ [ Chinese Laws and Regulations Regarding Internet] ]

Freedom of information

A number of groups are concerned with maintaining access to information. In the United States, these groups include the ACLU, the American Library Association, and Hacktivismo.").Fact|date=September 2008

Freedom of information includes open government records and open meetings by branches of government.").Fact|date=September 2008

See also

* Clear and present danger
* Copyleft
* Copyright
* Digital rights
* Fighting words
* Fleeting expletive
* Free content
* Freedom of the press
* Gripe site
* Heckler's veto
* Imminent lawless action
* Media transparency
* OAS Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression
* Parrhesia

Research Resources

* First Amendment Library
* International Freedom of Expression Exchange


Further reading

*cite journal |last=Sunstein |first=Cass |authorlink=Cass Sunstein |coauthors= |year=1995 |month= |title=Democracy and the problem of free speech |journal=Publishing Research Quarterly |volume=11 |issue=4 |pages=58–72 |doi=10.1007/BF02680544 |url= |accessdate= |quote=

External links

* [,,1702539,00.html Timeline: a history of free speech]
* [ UN-Resolution 217 A III] - (
* [ ARTICLE 19, Global Campaign for Free Expression]
* [ The journalist fired for calling Bush a coward after 9/11]
* [ Banned Magazine, the journal of censorship and secrecy.]
* [ International Freedom of Expression Exchange]
* [ - Amnesty International's campaign against internet repression]
* [ Organization of American States - Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression]
* [ Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe - Representative on Freedom of the Media]
* [ African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights - Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression in Africa]
* [ UNESCO - Programme on Freedom of Expression]
* [ FREEMUSE - Freedom of Musical Expression]
* Ringmar, Erik [ A Blogger's Manifesto: Free Speech and Censorship in the Age of the Internet] (London: Anthem Press, 2007)
* [ The BOBs - weblog award promoting freedom of speech]
* [ UN undermines freedom of expression, rapporteur to nail anti-Islamic speech]
* [ The Expressionist: India's track record]
* [ Worldwide Governance Indicators] Worldwide ratings of country performances on Voice and Accountability and other governance dimensions from 1996 to present.

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