Freedom of expression - Democracy
“It is a paradox that every dictator has climbed to power on the ladder of free speech. Immediately on attaining power each dictator has suppressed all free speech except his own.” – Herbert hoover
Meaning and definition:
The Duhaime’s law dictionary defines speech as ‘The expression of an idea in circumstances where it is likely that the message would be understood’.
In general sense it can be said that “Speech is the expression of ideas, thoughts and opinions of one’s to the public” by the medium of words of mouth, writing, printing, picture, film, movie etc
Article 19 of Universal Declaration of Human Rights states: “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.”
Article 19(1)(a) of Indian Constitution states that “ All citizens have the right to freedom of speech and expression”
Where Article 19(1)(a) gives us a fundamental right to speech and expression it also has some restrictions under Article 19(2) of the Constitution of India, which states that the State may make a law imposing “reasonable restrictions” on the exercise of the right to freedom of speech and expression “in the interest of” the public on the following grounds:
1. Security of State
2. Friendly relations with foreign states
3. Public Order
4. Decency or morality
5. Contempt of Court
7. Incitement to an offense Sovereignty and integrity of India.
Section 499 of The Indian Penal Code:
Whoever, by words either spoken or intended to be read, or by signs or by visible representations, makes or publishes any imputation concerning any person intending to harm, or knowing or having reason to believe that such imputation will harm, the reputation of such person, is said, except in the cases hereinafter expected, to defame that person.
Section 500 of The Indian Penal Code:
Whoever defames another shall be punished with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both
Importance of speech and expression:
The right to expression is essential for our autonomy and free will, to an individual's right to self-development, and to truth seeking.
If citizens are to be able to rule as democracy requires, it's after all the rule of the people by the people. If citizens are to be able to rule, they must be able to communicate freely, including with those that they elect and who govern them. They must be free to criticize, question challenge, all of which requires full access to information and ideas. Freedom of expression teaches tolerance and build tolerant societies.
It's a type of expression which is accorded higher level of protection under international human rights law, than other forms of expression.
Unlike a private citizen, politicians inevitably and knowingly should open themselves to close scrutiny of their words and of their actions by journalists and the public at large. And they must consequently display a greater degree of tolerance to criticism or indeed thick skin.
The United Nations Human Rights Committee insists that "all public figures including those exercising the highest political authority such as heads of state and governments are legally subject to criticism and political opposition."
African court of human rights ruled that: "People who assume highly visible public role must necessarily face a higher degree of criticism than private citizens; otherwise public debate may be stifled altogether."
Freedom of expression in Digital age:
A study done by International Telecommunication Union (ITU), World Bank, and United Nations Population Division revealed that around 40% of the world population has an internet connection today .In 1995, it was less than 1%. With the growth of technology the freedom of expression has taken a massive turn in online world. Many of the Defamation cases are nowadays due to expression of thoughts online through social media, internet etc. It is difficult for the court and judges to infer who the real culprit is and who should be punished. Is the Internet provider or the search Database engine or social network app or the publisher responsible for the act or are they all responsible for the act? Retweets, sharing and copy pasting of thoughts have led to suspense whether who the actual publisher is. With the development in the technology and with the help of cyber cells, the IP address can be tracked and who published the article first can be tracked within minutes. Another problem was about the jurisdiction of courts, if the publisher publishes online defamatory statement from London when he himself is a Indian who shifted to the other country. Which court had the jurisdiction? So there is a need of a common International law on Cyber crime in this digital age.
In recent years it has been seen that political parties have become so intolerable to matters against them that they choose violence over citizens and it has been found that most of the aggrieved parties had just expressed their general views on social media. Sometimes it is seen that illiterate political supporters who lack the basic knowledge of English language infer some different meaning of tweets, statements by people posting online.
Landmark case in the digital era,
The Supreme Court, in Shreya Singhal Vs Union of India, has stepped to the fore with a delightful affirmation of the value of free speech and expression, quashing, as unconstitutional, Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, 2000 (IT Act). Section 66A had attained particular infamy after the arrests by the Mumbai police in November 2012 of two women who had expressed their displeasure at a bandh called in the wake of Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray’s death. Since then, several arrests have been made by different State police, of various individuals, for the most benign dissemination of online content. The court concluded that Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, 2000 is struck down in its entirety being violative of Article 19(1)(a) and not saved under Article 19(2).
Censorship by states:
By censoring freedom of expression and information, governments or other actors violates that capacity of individuals to make decisions for themselves. This violates those individual's autonomy and they violate their dignity. Put in more simple terms, through censorship, governments and other people deny individuals their autonomy. They treat adult individuals like children.
In the same manner as malnutrition stops the body from growing and resisting disease, censorship impairs the mind from learning and developing. Censorship is the sting leading the puppet. It prevents our autonomy, denies our free will, and undermines our freedom of action.
By preventing the realization of our autonomy, censorship prevents us from seeking and accessing knowledge and ultimately from seeking and accessing truth.
When a discussion is made through the process of open discussion we find out what we ourselves think and we are then able to compare that with what others think on the same issues. The end result of this process, we hope, is that we will arrive at as close an approximation of the truth as we can.
Conclusion: Democracy lies in the hands of the people and the right to freedom of expressions plays a vital key role in the proper smooth functioning of the state. If the state does not function properly and is distracted from what it is obliged to do, it is the duty of the common people to make them remember. Freedom of speech is a medium given to us to live with dignity than merely existence. “Democracy is no democracy without free speech and expression”. Many times this freedom of expression and speech has been used by the corrupted people to lure the poor people and bring communal tensions. It has been seen that politicians have been using provocative speeches against other communities for the sake of their vote banks. So it is a necessity to maintain the balance. Freedom of speech is the expression where one conveys other what their views on a topic are. These views are sometimes revolutionary as in the case of the Great Martin Luther King where his famous speech ‘I have a Dream’ had a huge impact on the whole community, whereas on the other side the Nazi Party of Hitler had a different side. Hitler’s speeches provoked the people of the Nazi party to kill Jews and rest is the history. Judicial Activism has a greater role than the state to bring a balance and to decide when a reasonable restriction should be imposed. As George Washington said “If freedom of speech is taken away, then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.”
# Alexander Radishchev
# Lohé Issa Konaté v Burkina Faso (Application No 004/2013 Shreya Singhal vs Union of India 2015. Constitution of India The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR),1948 http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/the-judgment-that-silenced-section-66a/article7032656.ece https://producaoindustrialblog.wordpress.com/2016/12/25/internet-users/ The Indian Penal Code,1960