By Stella Vasileiadou,
After struggling for centuries, we finally achieved our goal: all human beings possess the privilege of freedom. Undoubtedly, we really like the idea of being “free”. For instance, we are free to express our point of view; we are free to choose whatever we want, but is it true that we can do anything we want to do no matter what? Or even, should there be any restrictions? Opinions do vary.
It is said that ancient Greeks were the ones who laid the foundations for free speech as a democratic principle. More accurately, the ancient Greek word “parrhesia” stands for free speech, or to speak directly and frankly. In fact, the term first appeared in Greek literature around the end of the 5th century B.C.
What does freedom of speech really mean?
In short, it means that you have the right to express yourself by saying whatever you think, share your information with the world and demand a better future. Freedom of expression is closely linked to other human rights as well, such as the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religious tolerance.
The right of freedom of expression is explicitly mentioned in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which sets out in broad terms the human rights that each of us has. It was later safeguarded legally by a raft of international and regional treaties.
This right is also clearly stated in Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, as indicated below:
“Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers. This Article shall not prevent States from requiring the licensing of broadcasting, television or cinema enterprises.
The exercise of these freedoms, since it carries with it duties and responsibilities, may be subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society, in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, for the protection of the reputation or rights of others, for preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, or for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary.”
Freedom of the Press
A free press reporting on the issues that interest us and shape our lives is a key building block of a typical rights-respecting society for sure. However, in some countries, like Azerbaijan, Turkey and Venezuela, journalists are constantly worried that others might find their opinions offensive and even face repression and attacks. And now, that brings us to the question whether we are really free if we are afraid to voice our point of view. The sad truth is that just because we still have free-speech rights does not mean we do feel free to exercise those rights, to say what is on our minds.
Should Free Speech have limitations?
No one should underestimate the power of words. They can be violent. We always hear “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me”. But words do hurt. I am sure you have seen people being verbally bullied online or in real life. Or you were the victim. Therefore, there should be a limit on it, to protect people no matter what.
Βut who gets to decide what is hate speech or not? Is it up to you? Me? Or the Government? Either way, a line must be drawn sometimes for the common good. For example, an opinion that promotes the idea of something such as the Holocaust or a genocide where millions of people died is totally unacceptable. It sets the safety and security of many people in danger.
On the other hand, some people claim that being told what they should not say promotes the rise of authoritarian and repressive governments, that contradicts democratic institutions.
If you ask me, everything actually depends on how the listener is perceiving the message. There is no doubt that speech is subjective. Not all people think the same way, and therefore it is hard to define what makes a speech a form of hate.
All in all, the world is a place for everyone where they have the right to say whatever they want but it should not hurt others.
AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL , ‘’FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION’’. Available here.
History.com, ‘’ Freedom of Speech’’. Available here.
The Lode, ‘’ Debate: Should Free Speech have limitations?’’. Available here.