The 9th freedom we analyse on THWBlog is Article 10’s freedom of expression – the right that allows me to write as I please on this blog, the right which allows you to agree or disagree with my views and the right which keeps people like Katie Hopkins relevant (it can’t all be good). The freedom of expression is set out as so:
1 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.
2 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.
What does it mean?
Freedom of expression is a long-established right protecting us from persecution from those who may not agree with those expressions of our opinions. That long-standing reply of “everyone is entitled to an opinion” used whenever someone expresses an unpopular position on a contentious topic, finds it foundations in this freedom.
The ability to openly express our opinion has been afforded to people worldwide for centuries. The English Bill of Rights and US Constitution both contain clear references to freedom of speech (although it was applied as indiscriminately as it is today) as history has continuously tried to improve the safeguarding of individual autonomy. As well as our ability to express our own opinion, it allows us to do so as part of a group. It protects our ability to receive opinions as well as convey them. Whether you like what is said and it opens up a completely new way of thinking for you, or you are upset and angered by what it being expressed, Article 10 protects it.
Why the incredibly wide scope? Like the two most recent freedoms analysed, the freedom of expression is also defined as an incredibly important aspect of our democratic society. Democracy, by definition, is the people making a decision based on who the majority supports. Through nature and nurture, we possess differing opinions and there is a place for every one of them. If a wide scope of support for our opinions did not exist, there is a very real possibility that everyone’s opinions would be (if not exactly the same) incredibly similar. How boring would it be if we all liked the same food, same music, had the same idea for a perfect society? Twitter would be pointless. Not only this, but we would have progressed at a much slower pace. If Hitler had not shown us the evil of Nazism, there would have been no Universal Declaration on Human Rights. If Rosa Parks had not refused to give up her seat to a white man on the bus, Martin Luther King may not have given his speech on August 28th 1963. If Hulk Hogan hadn’t spoken about his racist views, we’d probably still be watching the 62 year old, orange Colonel Sanders on steroids ripping his vest off in the middle of a wrestling ring. I think I speak for all of us when I say this is proof enough that unpopular opinions have their place in society.
What are the exceptions?
As I’m sure you are starting to see, there is a trend with rights. The scope is wide and the freedoms as great as reality allows. However, due to the nature of a non-ideal world, limitations are in place if necessary (so not simply desirable) to sufficiently protect the state and its functioning. This restriction has to be prescribed by law and have a valid reason for being applied (such as the ones listed in the second part of the Article above). An example of such a restriction is the Racial and Religious Hatred Act 2006, making it punishable to use threatening words intended to incite racial or religious hatred/violence.
Such crimes have become known as ‘hate crimes’, criminalised with the aim of protecting people from danger. Such powers need to be used incredibly delicately, because (as shown in my points above), even distasteful opinions have their place in society. In fact, this is the main difference with the freedom of expression and previous qualified rights discussed in my opinion. Previous definitions of ‘necessary’ in human rights articles, support maximising the freedom in question, by reducing the circumstances in which exceptional infringements are valid. Actions taken against freedom of speech can weaken not only our progress, but the freedom of expression as it is today and its scope. Human rights by definition are equal, universal and inalienable – so to say that some people aren’t allowed to express their opinion because the majority do not agree with it, totally misunderstands the concept of human rights.
The criminalisation of such things do have their valid reasons – for example some opinions may be that we remove a certain community through violence, it may incite killing and other such actions. Rights do not sit quietly alongside each other, they can overlap and compete. Therefore a balance must be made and in the circumstances set out here, one would find it difficult to favour freedom of speech over the protection of life. However, these exceptions (it could be argued) are being used quite sparingly at present, which can potentially open the door to authoritarian control over opinions, much like China at the moment (where economic prosperity is favoured over political freedom). Something I’m sure those of you like me would hate to see from a liberal perspective. Not being able to explain why a doner is better than a shish kebab in a half-drunken haze at the pub with my mates doesn’t bear thinking about. Doner meat wraps would continue to be ignored in favour of a stick of questionable meat and that is not a world I want to live in.
So to summarise, the freedom of expression offers us the right to express our opinion whatever it may be. It does not matter how many people disagree with you on how Adidas is pronounced, Article 10 has got your back on it. Exceptions are there and how freely they are used is perhaps questionable, or maybe not to you. Either way, everyone is entitled to an opinion…
Next up is Freedom of Assembly, enjoy what remains of the weekend and speak to you all tomorrow!