The following are some of the most commonly agreed upon definitions of freedom of expression that are considered as valid international standards:
- 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.
- Everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference. 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.
- Similarly, Article 19 (1) (a) of the Constitution of India also confers on the citizens of India the right to freedom of speech and expression. The freedom of speech and expression means the right to express one’s convictions and opinions freely by word of mouth, writing, printing, pictures or any other mode. It also includes the right to propagate or publish the views of other people
- The term freedom of speech and expression includes any act of seeking, receiving and imparting information or ideas, regardless of the medium used. Based on John Milton arguments, freedom of speech is understood as a multi- faceted right including not only the right to express or disseminate information and ideas but also including the right to seek, receive and impart information and ideas.
Importance of Freedom of expression
Freedom of speech and expression has various importance for the media as well as the citizens of the nation. In the following points it is shown how freedom of expression is important for the media and press.
- Freedom of expression is a foundation of various rights – It is the foundations of various other rights such as human rights and Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It covers the rights of speech, freedom of press and allows every individual and different sections of society to articulate their opinions without any fears. They can speak and express their opinions whenever they want without fear of punishment and censorship. But freedom of expression does not allow any hate speech or any defamatory statements which attracts any kind of violence. It is a part of fundamental human rights which allow people to speak freely without being interfered by anyone.
- A free press acts as the informant of the general public – The most important aspect of press is to provide information to the general public about different things going around them. It is said that knowledge is the absolute power for mankind. The print media, online sources, Tv and radio are the great source for people to know about their surroundings. Without this free exchange of information, people can’t be fully aware and can’t participate in meaningful decisions. The local and national reporters, bloggers and news outlets are the people who provide us with the information and knowledge about the whole world. When freedom of expression is respected and recognised the media are able to freely report on politics, economics and societal events as they occur.
- If the voters are informed then democracy becomes stronger – Freedom of expression helps the citizens to be informed about the political and democratic aspects. It lets people discuss different topics, express their opinions and debate among themselves. It supports the development of informed citizens and voters. As it is the human rights of every citizen to get informed whether it is a political matter, economic matter or any business matter. And because of this information the people can make a good decision and can become informed voters. When the voters get informed then it will result in a stronger democracy.
- For better democracy there must be fair elections – Everyone must know about all the facts when in the case of choosing a candidate for voting. Election gives a huge amount of power to individuals as only they can decide who will represent them. So, it is very important for the media to accurately report and critique the work of people who hold office, even when it is unflattering. In the case of elections the importance of the media is magnified.
- For the discovery of truth – It is very crucial for the journalist to find out the truth so that they can spread the awareness about the things going around the world. They follow different stories and find the actual truths behind the stories. A free press dedicated their time, energy and skills in order to find out about the truth. The accuracy of the information plays a great role in debates in matters of local, national and international platforms. Investigation journalism is the best way of public facing ways of sharing new information. This right supports the rights of the press and also protects their ability to freely research and report in the public interest.
- An independent press can hold powerful interests to account – Independent reporting will let the reporter to check the crucial information and keep the balance between the flow of information. A strong, independent media ensures transparency and helps reduce maladministration. Freedom of expression protects the rights of reporters, bloggers and news outlets – and the general public – to speak critically.
- Reporting will be a restriction if there is no freedom of expression – There are some situations where the media has to decide whether to work at risk or self censor their work. There are many situations where the media are forced and pressurized to only report those things which are equivalent to the ideological or political framework. In this situation the press is unable to report accurately and their freedom of speech and expression is violated. This put a restraint on reporting. Also, to cover the whole story or not this is dependent on the reporter as well. Some of them do not report the whole story without knowing the actual truth while others choose to report the actual truth by risking their lives. A respect for freedom of expression is an essential element for a functioning and accurate media.
- Human rights have given a platform by Freedom of expression – Freedom of expression facilitates human rights both directly and indirectly. With this right people can speak for themselves as well as for others, in case of violation of their human rights. The issues concerned are of abuses, torture, LGBT, interference with indigenous peoples’ land rights. There are many human rights which may not be known until now, but with the help of freedom of expression these rights are being heard. There are various rights such as international human rights standards. From freedom of assembly to freedom to access information, people now have various other rights. Now there are various provisions where they can fight for their rights such as can file petition, from public protest to protest for workers rights, freedom of expression allows such kind of active participation. Because if no one knows: no one cares. That is if no one knows about the facts, then no one will care.
- All the marginalised and minority issues are heard – Freedom of expression guarantees individuals and groups the right to tell their own stories, without censorship or fear of attacks. Improved representation can help improve understanding and opens the door to creating better discourse and a more connected society. Freedom of expression has a wide variety of marginalised causes, So that the voices to be heard. As it guarantees people the right to speak and express their opinions. Freedom of expression ensures people can advocate for themselves and others.
- Freedom of expression protects more than just the press : Art, academia, comedy and more – The concept of freedom of expression is not only related to journalism but it also includes all other factors. These factors include academic, political and fine art. Freedom of speech and expression gives the right to analytical, artistic and critical engagements. When a person has this right then he can think freely, debate on different topics and discuss on different topics and express their opinions. In order to develop ideas which help us better understand our past, present and future it’s essential that individuals, groups and institutions can put forward opinions, concepts and theories without fear of repercussions.
Right to freedom of speech and expression is one of the most important fundamental rights. It helps to circulate one’s views in the form of words or in writing or through audios, in some cases by advertisement and communication channels. It also includes the right to education , freedom of press, right to know and right to be heard etc. Thus, this fundamental right has a wide range of scope.
In the above case law it was evident that the Court has always placed a broad interpretation on the value and content of Article 19(1)(a), making it subjective only to the restrictions permissible under Article 19(2). Efforts by intolerant authorities to curb or suffocate this freedom have always been firmly repelled, more so when public authorities have betrayed autocratic tendencies.
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 a 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 that are directly intended to lead to disorder but also those that have the tendency to lead to disorder.
In the case of Brij Bhushan v. State of Delhi (AIR 1950 SC 129), the validity of censorship previous to the publication of an English Weekly of Delhi, the Organiser was questioned. The court struck down the Section 7 of the East Punjab Safety Act, 1949, which directed the editor and publisher of a newspaper “to submit for scrutiny, in duplicate, before the publication, till the further orders , all communal matters all the matters and news and views about Pakistan, including photographs, and cartoons”, on the ground that it was a restriction on the liberty of the press. Similarly, prohibiting a newspaper from publishing its own views or views of correspondents about a topic has been held to be a serious encroachment on the freedom of speech and expression.