The importance of the basic political right to the freedom of expression
cannot be under estimated. The ‘freedom to impart information and ideas
for any media regardless of frontiers’ (Article 19 of The Universal Declaration
of Human Rights, 1948) is essential to people being able to live without fear
of corruption spreading through their governing bodies. British thinker John
Stuart Mill, ‘The God Father of Liberty’, believed that the freedom of
expression was one of the foremost securities that we the people had to
guard against tyrannical governments.
Any nation that wants to live without tyranny and corruption must strive
toward attaining for themselves the basic right to freedom of expression and
achieve a free press. It is only with this basic right in place, the right to say
and print want one wishes about its governing body, that the people can
curtail the powers of its government to act in ways that are contrary to their
well being. In brief, it is through a free press that people can hope to attain
an honest government.
The freedom of expression is a framework right. This means that it contains
within it several other rights, e.g. the freedom of information, the freedom of
the press, the freedom of the media in general.
The main elements of the freedom of expression:
• Freedom to hold opinions without interference (freedom of opinion)
• Freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas (freedom of
speech and information) be it orally, in writing, in print, in the form of art,
• Through the media (freedom of the media)
• Regardless of frontiers (freedom of international communication).
(As detailed by Art. 19 of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights)
The right to the freedom of expression is based on the more fundamental,
absolute, civil right to the freedom of opinion. The freedom of opinion is a
universal right and should have no limits whatsoever. It is necessary to the
well being of each individual human, for it is part of that which makes up the
natural security that everybody ought to be entitled to (although sadly are
often denied). This is because being free to have and express our own
opinions, whatever they may be, is part of our right to be free from living in
fear. Just imagine a all those who were scared to speak badly, even to
friends, of Joseph Stalin for fear of their own life. Without the basic civil right
to freedom of opinion man ends up living in such fear.
It is the right to
opinion that gives birth to the framework right of the freedom of expression,
the right which is needed for a free press/media, which gives the people one
of its greatest defences against tyrannical governments.
A truly free media would necessarily have media pluralism. Such media
pluralism is an indispensable part of a democracy and pluralistic society. It is
needed to ensure that the different views within a society are heard, that no
one is having their voice suppressed and that everyone has the same right to
express their views. It is only through having multiple forms of media that
are controlled by different groups of people that it can be ensured that more
than one vantage point is expressed. It gives the people access to many
different opinions and allows different forums and opportunities for the
people to get their own opinions heard. A free, pluralistic media is so
important that it has been dubbed the ‘fourth power’ in a democracy
alongside the judiciary, legislative and executive powers. Many would say
that a free media is the very lifeblood of a democracy and it is a commonly
held belief that the freedom of a society can be judged by the freedom of its
media and press. This is shown to be the case when one considers that the
first move of most authoritarian governments and dictatorships is to curtail,
or totally abolish, the freedom of the media.
A free media and press only come when the right to the freedom of
expression is attained. With the freedom of the press and media people have
a voice, they have a guard against corruption and they have the lifeblood of a
truly democratic and free society. As such, the right to freedom of
expression is one of the essential rights for a free society. One man who
truly understood the importance of the freedoms of expression and opinion
was French thinker Voltaire, he famously once stated, ‘Sir, I do not share your
views, but I would risk my life for your right to express them’.