Freedom of expression: discussing our rights, duties and responsibilities.

Brandon Muganga

According to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, freedom of expression is the right of every individual to hold opinion without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers. As a result, this right tends to grant people with the permission to make their own choices, communicate with others about their opinions and also decide the kind of information or ideas they want or don’t want to welcome in their societies.

However, things can’t always be rosy and so; this right tends to bring negative implications with it. For instance, since anyone can express themselves however they want, one could choose to communicate hate speeches to other people and this disrupts the order that the society was in before. These hate speeches can be against an ethnic group, a religion, a race and many other targeted groups. They are usually transmitted with the aim of provoking a violent or abusive or any other feeling or action which goes against our morals from the listeners towards the targeted groups portrayed in the hate speech.  A good example would be the 1994 Rwandese genocide whereby the media in its propaganda used hate speeches to incite hatred and a will to murder in Rwandese hearts so as to turn against the Tutsis and anyone who was on their side. Technically, the person communicating this hate speech would be exercising his/her freedom of speech but it is for such scenarios that limitations to this right must be placed by the government.

The international law declares freedom of expression to be the law, limitations are the exceptions, permitted only to protect; the rights or reputations of others, national security, public order, public health and morals. They can be exercised by the government through different ways. To begin with, the government through its legislative organ may opt to pass laws or make amendments to the constitution (in case it permits the total practice of freedom of expression) which contain limitations such as imprisonment or rehabilitation in one of the government’s centers with the primary aim of educating those people who give a bad example when expressing themselves.

Another way would be through the use of censorship. The government can choose to censor some organizations within the country which say negative things mostly, made up, about that current regime in place. Censorship can’t just be used to counter the actions of rival political groups with negative intentions, it can also be used to stop or reduce the sale of inappropriate content which goes against moral values and beliefs of the society such as adult movies, adult games, rebellious or punk music and many others. Although many people these days who work in this field tend to sale their products on “black markets” so as to evade the law.

In my opinion, I believe there is no harm in a government placing limitations on this right because it helps to maintain the society’s equilibrium amidst all this freedom given to citizens which without order or the supervision of a supreme governing body can divulge the country into utter chaos. However, the world still has to be aware of greedy and selfish regimes which abuse their powers in ways such as limiting the freedom of their citizens to a point where they use terror to prevent them from expressing themselves unless they are doing it for that regime’s approval. In such states, you will find that the journalism is owned by the government, there usually aren’t any rival political parties and there is use of military power most of the times to keep citizens in check or just for the sake of continued intimidation. In this case, unlike the one before whereby it was the citizen misusing his/her right, it is the government which is misusing its own powers and this would no longer be considered to be a democratic state. It is very important that such states must be sensitized on the importance of people having freedom of speech but sadly there is no 100% correct formula for doing this which is why many rigorous negotiations or wars must take place to resolve this conflict.

So, then how can a government ensure that its people enjoy their right to freedom of expression without harming their social norms and values? Well, I believe that the best solution to this problem would be the powerful tool of education. I would humbly recommend the government to teach the next generation about recognizing their right to freedom of expression because it is would be a progressive step towards promoting a democratic society in the future. Now the most important concept of this subject which is usually forgotten along the way would be to advise them to first of all continue to respect their culture and to always examine the implications their actions or words can have on other people or environment so that if they are negative, they should be taught to refrain from them and if this is accomplished people will have mastered how to exercise their rights as responsible citizens and as a result the country would be considered to be a fully matured civilization.

To sum up, there should be a balance between people’s freedom of expression and the government’s power to intervene because the two need each other. Without people’s freedom of expression the state would luck ideas, innovations and alternatives which can be provided by people when dealing with certain problems such as in a financial crisis, whereby it is the private sector not the government which plays a major role in reviving the economy.  Also, without the government intervention everyone would do whatever they want regardless of the impact and as a result there would be utter chaos.

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