We explain what is freedom of expression and freedom of the press. Characteristics, importance and examples of freedom of expression.
What is freedom of expression?
Freedom of expression is the right of every human being to express their opinions and communicate them , without fear of reprisals, censorship or sanctions. Free expression is an indispensable principle of democratic societies . The lack of this right is typical of totalitarian policies or military dictatorships in which the dissemination of different points of view in any form is prohibited.
Freedom of expression is part of article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (published in 1948). This right carries with it duties and responsibilities, and is subject to certain restrictions in order to respect the rights or reputation of others, such as order, health and public morals.
Origin of the term “freedom of expression”
Although the term is included in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights , it was born in the middle of the 18th century with the philosophers of the Enlightenment , such as Montesquieu, Voltaire or Rousseau, who argued that the possibility of disagreeing with others promoted the progress of the arts , the sciences , technology and that it promoted authentic political participation.
The ideas of these thinkers influenced and instigated the people towards the French Revolution of 1789 , which resulted in the fall of the French absolutist empire and established a democratic government that began a new stage called the “contemporary era.” This revolution spread the ideals of freedom , fraternity and popular sovereignty worldwide.
Limits of freedom of expression
Freedom of expression presents certain limits from the legal and social point of view , in circumstances where this right conflicts with other rights and freedoms, such as in cases of defamation, slander, pornography, obscenity, damage to intellectual property, among others. .
In other words, freedom of expression is a right as such, as long as it does not result in a “principle of harm” or “principle of crime” for others, because it would be becoming a punishable act. For these cases, there are legal sanctions and social disapproval, as measures to counteract the damage caused.
Right to reply
When freedom of expression, especially freedom of the press, exceeds limits and harms the rights of others, it can give rise to the “right to reply”. If an individual is offended in a certain communication medium , he may use the right to reply to respond and defend himself in the same medium ( newspapers , television , radio , etc.). In any case, the right to reply is not the only way to respond, since the injured person may also initiate legal charges for “slander or libel.”
The right to freedom of expression and thought includes the freedom to seek, receive and impart information, by whatever means , without being subject to prior censorship. However, not everything that is exposed and disseminated is reliable for the mere fact of having been broadcast. The receiver of the message must remain critical and understand the transparency and reliability of the information source.
The mass media are usually groups with their own interests and ideologies , with which they color the massive messages they broadcast. The information can be true, but it can also be narrated in a way that generates a certain influence on public opinion. Just as important as freedom of expression is the responsibility with which each individual interprets and reproduces information.
Against this background, UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) proclaimed “World Press Freedom Day” on May 3 , to raise awareness and responsibility that this work implies. . In addition, in 1997 it established a World Press Freedom Prize to honor individuals, organizations and institutions that make an outstanding contribution to the defense and promotion of press freedom anywhere in the world.
Examples of freedom of expression
Some examples of freedom of expression can be:
- Groups for a cause. Freedom of association is an individual right to join groups that represent their interests and ideals. For example, trade union groups that are part of the workers’ labor movement and that come together to defend their common interests before employers and governments.
- The feminist movement “not one less.” It is a collective group of protest against violence against women and its most serious consequence, femicide. The first march called “ni una menos” occurred in Argentina in June 2015 and quickly spread through Latin America , Europe and Asia .
- Freedom of worship. It is the right that every individual has to choose his religious or spiritual doctrine and practice it privately or publicly, without being discriminated against or judged. You have the right to have your rituals and holidays respected, even in work environments where the same beliefs are not shared.
Examples of lack of freedom of expression
Some examples of lack of freedom of expression can be:
- The burning of books in Germany . In 1933 the Nazi party burned some 25,000 books with the aim of condemning the authors and their works, considering them “anti-German”.
- The prohibition of books on magic and fantasy. Between 2000 and 2009 the Harry Potter saga was banned in the Arab Emirates, for focusing on magic, which is contrary to their religious beliefs.
- Blocking Youtube and DaylyMotion. In 2007, the Tunisian president blocked access to both channels for containing material on political prisoners. In response, activists organized a “digital sit-in” linking videos on rights and freedoms, in the image of the presidential palace on Google Earth.
- “Universal Declaration of human Rights” at un.org.
- “Freedom of expression, limitations” on Wikipedia.
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