The right to freedom of speech has been a long and hard battle in many ways and in many societies and for many centuries it has been a topic of great debate and controversy. It is a fundamental principle and the inherent right of a democratic society. The right to freedom of speech and expression allows both individuals and groups to impart news, ideologies and information without censorship and without boundaries, by any method it sees fit without exception and including the use of any medium, such as the internet.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) article 19 accepted by European, US law and some African states allows ‘the right to right to hold opinion without interference’. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), states that everyone has ‘the right to freedom of expression’.
”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. ” UDHR 1948.
Closely linked, the freedom of thought or belief (article 18 UCCPR) is valueless without the right to express those thoughts externally/ publicly and vis versa. There are many arguments concerning the use of freedom of speech extending back over centuries and they are so extensive that Im not going to go into them: all available on the internet if you want to look them up. We only need to look at what has been going on in Iran be it under the previous regime or the present to understand what the many and various implications of censorship of this right means for society and individuals. The use of ‘freedom of speech’ as a ‘safety valve’ to help prevention of revolution as argued by Thomas Emerson from Yale is a lesson the present Government might consider, but thats a whole new subject for another time.
Ultimately though if we believe and agree to the right of the principles and application of this cherished right to freedom of speech for everyone, we have to accept even those views with which we disagree, or find distasteful, including extreme religious and political expressions such as those of various and numerous dictators and totalitarians and including other bloggers here amongst us, and agree that they also have the same right. The UCCPR and UDHR include no exceptions… article 18 and 19.
The ‘freedom of speech is not ‘absolute’ however. When in conflict with law or other human rights limitations freedom of speech is subject to the application of the ‘harm’ and ‘offence’ principle. The argument debates that ‘harm’ i.e physical injury or criminal activity holds greater risks to others than ‘offence’ and therefore the limitations of freedom are speech when applying the ‘harm’ principle are more clear.
Joel Feinberg (The Philosphy of Law 1985) http://www.iep.utm.edu/l/law-phil.htm#SSH2a.iii argues ‘offence’ principle is both subjective and objective in that subjectively it may cause ”shame, disgust, anxiety, embarrassment” and objectively that may lead to the ”the existence of a wrongful cause of such a mental state”. Feinburg goes on to say that the motives of the the speaker are one of the aspects that have to be considered when applying this principle. Other factors include extent, value and duration, the intensity of the offence taken and the number of people who take ‘offence’. It also lies on the ‘ease’ with which it can be avoided.
The point of raising this issue is with direct reference to and with concern for some of the blogs we find here in the community of I.Com, which are unacceptable and offensive to many of us. JJ has the editorial right to censor blogs. Is it fair or not to ask him to exercise that right under the conditions as outlined above???