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An updated analysis on Freedom of Speech and Expression

Context:

  • The Prime minister recently assured that his government is fully committed to upholding freedom of press and expression.
  • This article talks about the various challenges to Freedom of Press.

What is Freedom of Speech and Expression?

  • Freedom of speech and expression is broadly understood as the notion that every person has the natural right to freely express themselves through any media and without outside interference, such as censorship, and without fear of reprisal, such as threats and persecutions.
  • Freedom of expression is a complex right as freedom of expression is not absolute.
  • It carries with it special duties and responsibilities therefore it may be subject to certain restrictions provided by law.

Freedom of Speech and Expression as per the Indian Constitution:

  • Article 19(1) (a) of the Constitution of India guarantees to all its citizens the right to freedom of speech and expression.
  • The law states that, “all citizens shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression”.
  • Under Article 19(2) of the Constitution of India imposes restrictions on the right to freedom of speech and expression.
  • The law states that, “reasonable restrictions can be imposed on the exercise of this right for certain purposes. Any limitation on the exercise of the right under Article 19(1) (a) not falling within the four corners of Article 19(2) cannot be valid.” 

What is the need to protect Freedom of Speech and Expression?

  • There are four important justifications for freedom of speech :

Transparency:

  • If restrictions on speech are tolerated, society tends to keep silent about accurate facts and valuable opinion.

Personality and its growth:

  • Freedom of speech is an integral aspect of each individual’s right to self-development and self-fulfillment, restrictions on which will hamper personality and its growth.

One’s belief and show political attitudes:

  • Freedom of speech provides opportunity to express one’s belief and show political attitudes which ultimately results in the welfare of the society and state.

Democracy:

  • Freedom of speech is important to understand political issues and participate in smooth working of democracy and decision-making.

What is the need to restrict Freedom of Speech and Expression?

  • For a positive and healthy environment the right requires certain restrictions. Some of the major reasons are as follows:

Security of State:

  • Under Article 19(2) reasonable restrictions can be imposed on freedom of speech and expression in the interest of security of State.
  • The term “security of state” refers only to serious and aggravated forms of public order g. rebellion, waging war against the State, insurrection and not ordinary breaches of public order and public safety, e.g. unlawful assembly, riot, affray.

Friendly relations with foreign states:

  • Unrestrained malicious propaganda against a foreign friendly state needs to be restricted at some level because something which has potential to affect such relationship should be checked by government.

Public Order:

  • ‘Public order’ is synonymous with public peace, safety and tranquility. Anything that disturbs public tranquility or public peace disturbs public order.
  • Thus, a law punishing utterances made with the deliberate intention to hurt the religious feelings of any class of persons is valid for such speech or writing has the tendency to create public disorder even if in some case those activities may not actually lead to a breach of peace.

Decency or morality:

  • The way to express something or to say something should be decent one. It should not affect the morality of the society adversely.
  • Sections 292 to 294 of the Indian Penal Code provide instances of restrictions on the freedom of speech and expression in the interest of decency or morality.

Hate speech:

  • The Supreme Court of India had asked the Law Commission of India to make recommendations to the Parliament to strengthen the Election Commission to curb the menace of “hate speeches” irrespective of, whenever made.
  • But the Commission recommends that the several factors need to be considered before restricting a speech, like, the context of the speech, the status of the victim, the status of the maker of the speech and the potential of the speech to create discriminatory and disruptive circumstances.

Freedom of Speech and Expression through media:

  • In democratic structure, media is regarded as a tool for encouraging social participation in governance.
  • Through media people challenges administrative norms and structure dictating public sector declaration around the world: from government to government and government to public.

Is Freedom of Speech and Expression through media in threat?

  • In 2017, India and other South Asian countries faced growing challenges in the field of internet freedom, censorship, and freedom of speech & expression.

Internet shutdowns:

  • Internet shutdowns and blackouts in conflict areas rose sharply in 2017, threatening citizens’ access to communications, information and free expression online.

Cinema censorship:

  • In India, the authorities ban movies in order to protect communal and religious harmony and control obscenity.
  • 2017 saw an increasing number of petitions regarding film censorship reach the Supreme Court.

Violent threats against bloggers and media workers:

  • Several journalists, bloggers, human rights defenders and media workers were killed in a number of South Asian countries.
  • Most recently, Veteran Indian journalist Gauri Lankesh was shot to death by assailants on September 5, 2017, outside her home in Bangalore.

Way forward:

To remain vigilante:

  • Even though Freedom of speech and Expression is a boon for the citizens, but the government and media needs to remain vigilante for its proper usage.

To stay legit:

  • Freedom of speech and Expression should not infringe upon the sovereignty, unity, integrity and security of the country. That applies to media/social media as well.
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