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Communication & information

A guide to freedom of expression

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  • What is freedom of expression?

    The term itself « freedom of expression » has existed since ancient times, going back at least to the time of Athenian democracy more than 2,400 years ago! At that time however, freedom of expression was very restricted, reserved for a miniscule part of the population.
    Today, freedom of expression is strictly linked to another concept called « freedom of the press ». The first concept covers a wider range of forms of freedom of expression: oral, written, audio-visual, cultural, artistic or even political. The second concept places emphasis on written or electronic media, in particular those which involve journalism and journalists.
    Freedom of expression is a complex right, since it is not absolute and it is accompanied by certain duties and responsibilities. As a result, it can « be subject to certain restrictions, which are nevertheless necessary and must be prescribed by law». The law « protects » as much « the right of the speaker as that of the listener ». These two rights are sometimes contradictory since it is necessary to reconcile the rights of dignity, security, and privacy. Most of the restrictions to freedom of expression are aimed at reconciling this conflict.

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    « 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, Universal Declaration of Human rights 1948)

    « 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. » (Article 19 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 1966)

    « Freedom of expression includes the right to ‘research, receive and distribute information and ideas of all sort’ including the right to communicate information and ideas and the right to access this information. » (International society for human rights)

  • Why is freedom of expression important?

    Those who uphold freedom of expression are right to be worried about its importance. Even if there are a myriad of opinions on freedom of expression, a consensus reigns on the essentials, namely that States and their peoples cannot really progress and develop without the means to express themselves freely and openly.
    There are four main reasons for which freedom of expression is important.
    First of all, it is « essential for personal fulfilment » and to allow each individual to realise their full potential.
    Secondly, freedom of expression is vital to be able to search for truth and advance knowledge, since an « individual looking for knowledge and truth must collect all the points of view on a given issue, study all the possibilities, make their final judgement faced with differing opinions and take full advantage of diverging opinions. »
    Thirdly, it is important to allow people to participate in the decision making process, particularly in the political sphere.
    Finally, freedom of expression allows a society (and a country) to enjoy stability and the ability to adapt. In the short term, brute force can slow freedom of expression, but it creates instability, since society becomes rigid and incapable of adapting to change.

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    The questions and issues on freedom of expression are complex and have multiple facets. Certain situations are easy to identify and classify as bad for freedom of expression. For example, a dominant group which bans the public expression of certain opinions in a society through the passing of laws or through intimidation, simply because these opinions go against the norms established by the holders of power. Other situations are more subtle and nuanced. So subtle that in fact the same groups, which are oppressed, don’t realise that their freedom of expression has been infringed.
    In our days, the majority of individuals exercise their freedom of expression to varying degrees. You apply your freedom of expression by mentioning your preference for a cup of coffee instead of a cup of tea. You can clearly criticise whatever drink you want, however you want. You can also express you artistic freedom by designing a flower in your garden. They are relatively insignificant ways of freedom of expression, which are unlikely to disturb anyone.
    However it is a different case when expressing your preference for a certain politician or when you criticise the legitimacy of a given religion.

  • When is freedom of expression threatened?

    Refusal to grant licences for publication or broadcasting
    Granting permission to print becomes problematic when a dominant political group has control of the circulation of information and deliberately makes it more difficult to get a license for opposition groups. In the majority of countries, a permit is also required before being able to broadcast, both on television and radio. Radio and television stations broadcast on specific « frequency bandwidths », and each radio station or television channel is given a unique frequency. It has nevertheless rapidly become clear that granting these permits represents an efficient way of controlling who can publish or broadcast and, by extension, those who can be published or broadcast about.

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    Resorting to physical and psychological intimidation
    One of the most current threats to freedom of expression involves carrying out physical or psychological intimidation. Those who have differing opinions or the reporters, who investigate delicate issues, receive death threats against them or against their families. Protestors and dissidents are held for long interrogations aimed at « breaking » them. Certain of these interrogations are carried out under the pretext of « contributing to an official investigation. » Anonymous threats, by mail or telephone, are also common. They can be associated with attacks that are sometimes deadly. The death of opponents and dissidents, including journalists, represents the cruellest way of silencing freedom of expression.

  • When is freedom of expression threatened?

    Access to information is unduly refused or restricted
    A way of limiting freedom of expression is to restrict or refuse the right to search for and receive information, which involves « access to information ». Included in this are ways of gagging access to information. For example a government might impose elevated fees, thus blocking access to information for certain groups in economic difficulty. Access to information can also be out of reach for users who don’t have the necessary communication technology. For example, the Internet connection can, in extreme cases, simply by « deactivated ». It is understandable that certain delicate information is rightly banned from the public sphere for a certain period of time. For example, personal medical information, the movements of military personal or the locations of weapons storage installations should not be easily accessibly to the public. Access to these documents is sometimes restricted under the auspices of « national security ». It is nevertheless important that the term « national security » is clearly defined by the law and linked to ideas of real danger or risk. It must not be used as a generic term that covers everything. Such ambiguity can lead to an abusive use of the law and erode public confidence in the government.
    Excessive use of libel cases for defamation or slander
    It is not always necessary to resort to brute force, such as physical intimidation, to silence freedom of expression. Through the excessive use of legal mechanisms – defamation cases to claim millions in damages or lawyers’ fees to defend the cases – those sued can quite quickly be led to bankruptcy. Defamation exists when false and slanderous accusations are launched against someone. We generally distinguish between two types of defamation: libel, a written false and slanderous accusation and slander, a spoken defamatory accusation. It is important to remember however that it is not illegal or wrong in itself to sue someone or an organisation for defamation.

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    Restrictive laws and regulations
    The presence of unjust laws and regulations is used to protect the status quo and to silence dissidents. It represents another obstacle to freedom of expression. These unjust laws and regulations have the two-fold effect of strangling freedom of expression and creating a false legal reason to silence « discordant voices ».
    These types of laws come in several forms. « Sedition laws », which can have a variety of names, are common examples. They can be manipulated and interpreted to cover a broad range of declarations and publications. « Internal Security Laws », « National Security » laws or even «Public order » laws have a tendency to be unclear enough so that criticism of the government can be considered as a punishable infraction. Different forms of « official secrets law » also hinder the free circulation of information. The abusive use of « official secrets laws » camouflages abuse of power and corruption by stopping the public critical examination of government.
    Unfair or unjust laws and regulations represent genuine obstacles, since they are difficult to abolish or modify. What is more, people who have genuine power to modify or abolish such laws have a tendency to not want to question the status quo for several reasons. For example, financial interests might rely on maintaining a law or the repeal of another might lead to the revelation of embarrassing or potentially illegal information on such power holders. Nevertheless, it is possible to abolish unjust laws. They have been repealed in several parts of the worlds thanks to the hard work and perseverance of ordinary people and civil society groups.

  • What are the necessary conditions to fully enjoy freedom of expression?

    The supremacy of the law is essential for the stability of a society. It is only when the supremacy of the law is respected that citizens put, over the long term, their confidence in the democratic process and invest in the development of their society. If supremacy of the law is not respected, arbitrariness and impunity dominate the political scene. Supremacy of the law largely depends on the creation of an independent and impartial judiciary, and the will of the government to exercise and respect the law. Supremacy of the law must be envisaged not as a statement of fact, but as a difficult ideal, requiring constant vigilance.
    Media play a crucial role in guaranteeing this. They represent the sector of the society best placed to promote vigilance towards abuses of the law. They succeed specifically by encouraging investigative journalism, transparency in courts and legal or administrative processes, as well as encouraging access to official representatives and public documents. For this the government plays an essential role in protecting the independence and plurality of the media, particularly at crucial moments when establishing and changing these mechanisms.

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    The constitutions of several countries enshrine freedom of expression and the related freedoms of the press and of information. The constitution is the supreme law of a country. It is used as the basis of other rules and principles, which guide the government and citizens.
    Here is an extract from a constitution, which deals with freedom of expression. The example is take from article 16 of the constitution of the Republic of South Africa, which came into force in 1996 following the abolition of the apartheid regime:
    It is important to note that the South African constitution stipulates clearly that everyone « has the right to freedom of expression ». The constitution also underlines the freedom of the press and media to « receive or transmit information and ideas, » as well as « freedom of artistic creativity ». This constitution even includes « freedom to teach » and to do « scientific research », which are found less frequently in other constitutions. Nevertheless, this constitution also establishes restrictions on freedom of expression forbidding « propaganda in favour of war », inciting to violence and hate.

  • What are the necessary conditions to fully enjoying freedom of expression?

    Completely free, independent and pluralist media
    There are several types of media, including private, community, State and public. By « private », we mean media which is for profit, has business targets and is owned privately.
    Media can also belong to the community. It is therefore the citizens who decide the programming and ensure it works in the interest of the community instead of fro the generation of profits.
    State media represents a third type. This kind of media is usually a governmental body, related to the Information ministry or other similar ministries. They must often report to the government, and the information that they broadcast is almost always favourable to the government.
    There is also public media, general called public service broadcasting (PSB). PSBs are produced, financed and checked by the public in the interest of the public. They are neither commercial nor State owned. They are free from all political interference and any pressure exercised by commercial forces. Through PSBs, citizens are informed, educated and entertained.
    Nevertheless, it is not enough to have several newspapers and radio or television stations. « Multiplicity does not mean  diversity ». Concentration of media ownership can poison a varied and lively media landscape, since at the end of the day large media conglomerates are mainly motivated by their own profit margins. In these situations, the media can have a tendency to privilege reports and media coverage of « news that sells » or which satisfies the interests of the owner instead of the quality and diversity of the news.

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    During a UNESCO conference on the 3 May 1991, participants reached a consensus on the definition of an « independent and plural press » written in the Windhoek Declaration:
    « By an independent press, we mean a press independent from governmental, political or economic control or from control of the necessary materials and infrastructure essential for the production and dissemination of newspapers, magazines and periodicals. By a pluralistic press, we mean the end of monopolies of any kind and the existence of the greatest possible number of newspapers, magazines and periodicals reflecting the widest possible range of opinion within the community. (Taken from the Windhoek Declaration of 3 May 1991, which led to the World Press Freedom Day celebrated on 3 May each year).

  • What are the necessary conditions to fully enjoying freedom of expression?

    Freedom of information: access to public information
    In recent years, we have witnessed a significant change in the field of freedom of expression, through the adoption of a growing number of laws on freedom of information or on the right to information. These laws facilitate access to information held by public bodies or State owned companies for the wider public. People often have the false impression that information held by public bodies or State owned companies is confidential and that it should not be accessible to the public. In reality, public bodies or State owned companies are neither the holders nor the owners of public information within a democracy. In other terms, the public has the right to request public information and its request must be dealt with promptly. In fact, this information should automatically and regularly by published and made accessible without needing to be requested.

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    Information is of greater and greater importance in our lives. The ability to search, receive and transmit information precisely and rapidly has a considerable influence on the health of freedom of expression and on democracy. Freedom of information can be interpreted as being the right to access information held by public bodies.
    The notion of freedom of information has been recognised by the United Nations since 1946. It has since become part of the fundamental human rights. To this day, more than 90 countries have adopted laws on freedom of information into their legislative frameworks.
    Information has often been described as being « the oxygen of democracy ». Freedom of information can contribute to transparency and making governments responsible, to prevent abuses of power and to combat corruption. It is also linked to empowering the population and general development.
    A majority of countries have adopted measures in this vain since the start of the second half of the 20th century.
    Sweden has had a law guaranteeing freedom of information since 1766.

  • What are the necessary conditions to fully enjoy freedom of expression?

    A dynamic and active civil society
    The term « civil society » usually designates different groups of people, made up of men and women who come together, freely and of their own will, around an objective in the public sphere. They are usually non governmental and not for profit. Even if the members of civil society are not part of government, they can work on State issues or in collaboration with the State. Civil society groups, in this way, are often formed by people from the community and not planned by the State. Civil society plays an essential role in public debates, bridging the gap between the citizen and the State or government.

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    Civil society groups cover a range of issues. Many of them work on concepts linked to health like HIV/AIDS, the reduction of hunger and poverty, improving schools or parks, supplying drinking water, making the city-centre more beautiful, promoting organic food, encouraging people to do more exercise, etc. There are also groups within civil society itself! A dynamic civil society is considered an indicator of the health of a democracy and the vitality of freedom of expression for the simple reason that its existence alone denotes the ability of people to freely and of their own volition meet and associate to obtain, search, receive and transmit ideas and opinions. In India, for example, the law on freedom of information was first presented and promoted by local bodies from civil society, and it represents a good example of the bottom-up process started by the community.

  • The particular role of journalism and journalists in freedom of expression.

    Guard dogs or lap dogs?
    Since they represent counterweights to power, journalists are sometimes called « guard dogs of the people ». It is expected that they have an eye on the holders of power at the head of the State and in the wider society. Nevertheless, journalists, and journalism in general, sometimes neglect to take on this particular role. We can see this when journalists only tell « good » news, attracting public attention only to successes and achievements, like the construction of a bridge, a new road or a new water treatment factory. They can also dedicate too much space to politicians and their slogans and claims during an election campaign. Another indicator that journalists don’t carry out their job properly is that they trust too much in official statements, to the point that sometimes they regurgitate them verbatim or word for word without offering other sources of information, without verifying the facts, investigating further or questioning anything. In general, quality journalism must always present at least two credible sources of information.

    Free, self-regulating media
    So that journalists can play their role « of counterweight », « guard dogs » or of the « fourth power », there must be freedom of the press. This means that they must be able to print and publish a piece of news without external interference (political or financial) and without fear of reprisals or persecution. They must also have access to information to obtain the necessary details for their reports or to verify their information. Another method to guarantee their role that is gaining popularity is « the self-regulation of the media ». As the name suggests, it involves the regulation of the media by the media. Self-regulation can take the form of an internal press ombudsman nominated by the information group in order to act as a neutral « referee » studying the complaints of readers, listeners etc. An ombudsman is usually a very well respected person in society, such as a retired judge or a university professor. Self-regulation is also possible through a press council.

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    Safety of journalists
    The safety of male and female journalists and information workers is increasingly threatened all over the world. In 2009, according to the Committee for the protection of journalists (CPJ), 74 journalists were killed because of their work. This is the highest number since the first publication of data in 1992. In total, more than 500 journalists and information workers have been killed over the course of the last decade. This number is very high, if we consider that journalists are only doing their jobs – they are the link transferring what happened on the ground to the public. All aggression against journalists is an attack against one of our most fundamental freedoms. We cannot enjoy freedom of the press and freedom of expression without ensuring the fundamental safety of journalists.
    The general director of UNESCO makes official condemnations of murders and the unjustified imprisonment of journalists. UNESCO condemns the assassinations of journalists and information workers since journalism plays a particularly important role in our society and in the development of a country. This role must receive the protection that it deserves.
    Impunity reigns when acts of violence against journalist are not subject to investigations and those that carry out these crimes are not brought to justice. This state of affairs creates a vicious circle where criminals are encouraged to use violence and intimidation against journalists since they know that they won’t suffer the consequences. Over time, journalists, chief editors and the media will self-censure more and more because of the real danger for their lives and those of their relatives. According to the United Nations plan of action on the safety of journalists, 90% of murders of journalists remain unpunished.

    Number of journalists killed or imprisoned around the world (2000-2011)
    Year        Journalists killed    Journalists imprisoned
    2000            24            81
    2001            37            118
    2002            21            139
    2003            42            138
    2004            60            122
    2005            48            125
    2006            57            134
    2007            67            127
    2008            42            125
    2009            74            136
    2010            62            145
    2011            46            179

  • What is online freedom of expression?

    The popularisation of the internet and more specifically users who are increasingly able to circumvent official filtering systems set up by governments, has facilitated the research and spread of information and has reduced the risks for information providers. New technology allows the research and receiving of information just as must as its production and diffusion. This is known as « Web 2.0 ». It simply refers to the proliferation of new generations of Internet applications (such as Facebook, YouTube, MySpace and various types of blogs, etc. that you may already use). They are also known as « social networks ». These Internet applications are different from the previous generations in that they allow users to create easily and free of charge their own content. This progress changes the role of many Internet users from simple consumers of information to providers of information. The term ‘produser’ was invented to characterise this change. Users have easy ways not only to « search » and « receive » information, but also to « communicate » it. In several cases, they can even, through the social network, hold debates and express opinions without external interference. Even if the applications of Web 2.0 have granted an unprecedented level of freedom to users to express themselves, they are at times limited. The committee for the protection of journalists (CPJ) noted that in 2008 and for the first time in history, more cyber journalists were imprisoned or killed than traditional journalists. Several States place an emphasis on more efficient methods of surveillance and Internet filtering and interpret the existing laws on media so that they apply to the Internet.

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    Another form of reporting was born with the arrival of media rich in user created content, such as blogs, social networks and video sharing sties. They are usually referred as citizen reporting or sometimes citizen journalism meaning that they resemble traditional journalism but often without all of the professional standards and tools. New media (also known as Web 2.0), allows your average Mr/ Ms. Bloggs to upload their own reports and opinions onto the Internet. Citizen journalists have been the means of change in a number of countries around the world.

    Internet blogs, diaries and other new media, including sites for sharing videos, like YouTube or Tudou, and social networks, like Facebook, Badoo or Renren, collectively known as Web 2.0 have become a cultural phenomenon in a number of regions around the world. Several blogs are filled with amusing and funny anecdotes about daily life. And if you have already visited these sites for sharing videos, you have probably seen video clips of people or animals doing silly and funny things. This is the superficial side of Web 2.0. Often, however, it is also used to make socio-political observations, to make announcements that the wider media cannot speak about, to spread controversial messages and to call on citizens to mobilise themselves and protest in the streets. For different reasons, certain governments have adopted a very strong confrontational attitude towards these bloggers, video makers, and Twitter or Facebook users, because their divergent opinions and writing is controversial.
    The international body Reporters without Borders (RWB) observed in its World Press Freedom index 2007 that “More and more governments have realised that the Internet can play a key role in the fight for democracy and they are establishing new methods of censoring it.” And that “The governments of repressive countries are now targeting bloggers and online journalists as forcefully as journalists in traditional media.”

  • Get involved: monitor, defend and promote freedom of expression.

    Why should we monitor freedom of expression?
    Recording what goes on in your field is a practice as old as the world. Cave painting was a way to record what was going on in the world around. By noting what happens in your life, you allow a better understanding of a precise moment in history. Monitoring freedom of expression, in a diary or an electronic blog, offers a new angle on the issue, which can be very useful to promote that same freedom.

    Publish your own information bulletin
    Find a time slot. Imagine specialising on certain issues of interest to you or your group. Choose to better promote access to information on the environment, on doping in sport or on the creation of school establishments in your city. The field chosen can vary, but the underlying philosophy remains the same: exercise your right to write and publish a document dedicated to a given subject.
    Remember:
    He who tries nothing has nothing. There is not a good or bad way to produce your publication. Each context presents its own difficulties and possibilities. Find what works best for you and your team.
    Share:
    It can be useful to share your ideas, your innovations and your frustrations on the process of producing your publication. Make it known to other youths around the world.

    Create a blog to monitor freedom of expression
    If you have access to the Internet, try to create a blog to monitor the changes in freedom of expression in your country. The term « blog » is a mix of the words « Web » and « log ». A blog allows visitors to upload texts, photos and videos onto a page through an Internet connection. Contrary to traditional media, users (or bloggers) have control over the content shown. The blogger is in fact, the writer, editor and owner of the publication. Blogs are usually available without fees on host sites such as www.blogger.com, www.wordpress.com or any other hosting sites for blogs that you know or have accessed.

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    Making observations, what you have to monitor:
    • Cases of the repression of freedom of expression. For example, the closing of a newspaper, television or radio station, the arrest of protestors in the streets or of people expressing certain opinions.
    • Creation of laws relating to the media
    • Creation of new agencies or new local bodies, which are dedicated to freedom of expression.
    • Events, conferences, or activities dealing with freedom of expression, which have taken place in your country, include activities in your school.

    Basic checklist:
    • What information, events or issues is it about?
    • Who spoke about it? Who was involved?
    • When was it spoken about? When did it happen?
    • How was the information obtained? What was the source? (you must decide if it is appropriate or not to reveal the source)
    • What set the problem off? How did it happen? How was it resolved (if a solution was found)?

    You can get information on these facts by word-of-mouth or by reading newspapers, carrying out research on the Internet, by listening to the radio, or by watching television. Don’t forget to write down your sources of information. Write the name of the website, the radio or television stations or the newspaper. This is part of good reporting practices. We suggest also including details: date and place of the event, a map of the area, number of people who took part, the people involved in the incident, reason for the incident happening, etc. You could also add your own evaluation of the incident, in particular what it means for you and your peers. One of the strengths of local reporting or citizen journalism is learning the news directly from the witness of a specific incident. The fact of being near to an incident makes reporting more striking and powerful. Include the facts (number of people, place of incident, time, people involved etc.) and your impression (atmosphere, what you felt, etc.) in your report.

  • « I can say whatever I want, I am just exercising my freedom of expression »

    A few warnings
    It is generally recognised that absolute freedom without restrictions is impossible and, in fact, not desirable. However, we have no intention of advocating unjustified restrictions on freedom of expression. It is really about an important distinction. In reality, for the majority of cases, we prefer to allow more freedom of expression than to impose restrictions, which could easily transform into oppression or even repression.

    In practice, full freedom of expression of a person carries with it the expectation of another’s freedom of expression. To illustrate this point, lets imagine two people are speaking at the same time, each one trying to have the last word. We immediately realise that two people cannot simply speak at the same time and wait for a coherent and polite conversation to start. If these people are left to their own devices, their interaction will degenerate into a cacophony of cries, each one trying to speak louder than the other. We will hear only noise and not words. The two speakers are deprived of their freedom of expression. In other words, we need a system or mechanism to ensure that the principle of freedom of expression is correctly applied.

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    Restrictions on freedom of expression: hate speech
    Case study: the genocide in Rwanda

    Context

    In 1994, one of the national radio stations in Rwanda broadcast a call for the extermination of the Tutsis – a minority group in this country. What followed was one of the darkest events in recent history. Over around 100 days, more than a million Rwandans, for the most part Tutsis, were systematically killed. That represents up to 10,000 people killed every day. Additionally, two million others fled to neighbouring countries.
    This genocide was dreadful from more than one angle. Firstly, the international community was incapable of intervening quickly enough to stop it and secondly, the radio served to broadcast hate speech inciting a group of human beings to massacre another group of human beings. For the needs of this discussion we will focus on the use of the radio to broadcast hate speech with dire consequences.
    Since this is a guide to freedom of expression, we will discuss the events in this light and in particular on when it should be restricted. Hate speech aims to generate genuine prejudice against a targeted person/s. A large number of Rwandans were illiterate. Written media had very little influence in the country. A television was relatively expensive, so in the context of Rwanda, radio was the most common source of information for the people.
    « In March 1992, Radio Rwanda was used to promote the massacre of Tutsis in a region known as Bugesera, to the south of the national capital. On 3 March, the radio station broadcast repeatedly a communiqué supposedly from a human rights defence group located in Nairobi, which warned the Hutus living in Bugesera that an attack might be carried out on them by the Tutsis. The local authorities took advantage of the announcement made on the radio to convince the Hutus that they should protect themselves by attacking first. Directed by soldiers from a nearby military base, Hutu civilians, members of Interahamwe, a militia associated with the MRND party, and Hutus from the region attacked and killed hundreds of Tutsis. » International commission 1993, pp. 13-14).
    The Rwandan genocide is an extreme case, but a real one where media was used as a tool to generate and spread hate. It shows that hate speech cannot be justified in the name of freedom of expression. Hate speech, which incites violence against others, is not protected by international norms on freedom of expression. It is nonetheless a difficult and complicated idea and something, which could easily be manipulated to silence unwanted ideas. Below are two examples of « offensive suggestions » which differ from hate speech. What would be your reaction?

  • « I can say whatever I want, I am just exercising my freedom of expression »

    From a logistics point of view, it is simply impossible for everybody to have their say on everything. Members of a small group of people can give their opinions in turn, but it would be impossible for a million people to do the same thing. Several years or decades would pass before the last person had the possibility to give their opinion. Despite new technologies, it is still not possible for everybody to find themselves in the same place to give their opinions on every issue. It is therefore necessary to find a compromise. For example regularly establishing a maximum length of time for political speeches, limiting the time each candidate has to speak during a political debate and limiting the number of days for electoral campaigns.

    It is impossible from a logistical point of view to enjoy boundless freedom of expression, due to limited time and other similar constraints, but it is also impossible from a philosophical point of view.  When a weak argument is confronted with a strong argument, the weaker cannot be maintained. This result has very little to do with the speaker ‘who speaks the loudest ». For example, the argument in favour of promoting child pornography would be a weak argument because it is universally considered as harmful to the most vulnerable group (children) in the community. All arguments in favour of promoting child pornography would be refuted and rejected quite easily. Another example is hate speech, in particular speech, which incites violence against a certain group, to attack them physically and kill them. Severe restrictions are imposed on these types of expressions because, for various reasons, they don’t stand up to examination.

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    Imagine that:

    You are the mayor of a town. A group of people plan a march in the most densely populated part of the town to protest against the growing number of immigrants living there. The organiser announced the march publically and planned it several weeks before specifying the exact date, time and length. He also guaranteed that the march would be peaceful. What would you do as town mayor?

    Imagine that:

    You are the principle of a school. A group of students wants to protest against a group of homosexuals, lesbians and transsexuals in your school. The group of students propose having banners, petitions to sign and to make speeches in front of the school against homosexuals. What would you do as school principle?

    When two solid and reasonable arguments are based on a precise question relating to freedom of expression, the issue is a lot less clear. Each of the parties seems to have a valid reason and raises good points. When this is done, we are faced with a dilemma. Dilemmas are situations which are particularly troubling when dealing with freedom of expression since the two parties might be right at the same time.

Testez vos connaissances

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    • Today, what other concept is linked to freedom of expression?
    • What is the date of the Universal declaration of human rights?
    • Freedom of expression protects the rights:
    • For a country, freedom of expression represents...
    • It is legitimate for a dominant group to ban the public expression of opinions simply because they go against the group’s ideas.
    • An individual who searches for knowledge and truth must...
    • Refusal to authorise publication can represent an attack on freedom of expression.
    • Regulatory authorities give Radio and Television…
    • What methods can be used to intimidate a dissident who has used their freedom of expression?
    • In what ways could a government limit access to information?
    • Which of the follow information is related to national security?
    • Can defamation and slander represent methods of hindering the right to access information?
    • What does a society protect itself from by enshrining supremacy of the law?
    • What restriction to freedom of expression can be legitimately established?
    • How can the media promote vigilance for abuses of the law?
    • What kinds of media exist?
    • Multiplicity of radio and television stations guarantees pluralism.
    • The declaration of Windhoek 3 May 1991 during the UNESCO conference was dedicated to…
    • A law guaranteeing access to public information facilitates access to information held…
    • The State should make public information accessible without it being requested.
    • The first law guaranteeing freedom of information was adopted in Sweden in…
    • What is the name generally given to groups of people, which form freely and of their own will around a public goal?
    • Groups from civil society are set up by the State.
    • On which issues can civil society organisations work?
    • What percentage of murders against journalists goes unpunished?
    • When does a journalist neglect their role as guard dog of the people?
    • What characterises free self-regulating media.
    • What consequences can the installation of a filtering system have in certain countries?
    • What is the name of an Internet user who, consults and produces content at the same time?
    • Certain States do not have laws that delineate freedom of expression on the Internet and interpret existing laws for traditional media.
    • On what theme can you publish your information bulletin?
    • The term blog comes from the terms web and log?
    • What must be recorded during an incident involving freedom of expression?
    • Absolute freedom of expression without restrictions is possible and desirable.
    • Why is it necessary to frame freedom of expression?
    • What was the consequence of a call to exterminate the Tutsis launched in 1994 by a national radio in Rwanda?
    • How can freedom of expression be framed during an electoral campaign period?
    • In the name of freedom of expression child pornography can be promoted.
    • You don’t agree with the person you are speaking with…

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