‘Human rights’ is a term which is used very lightly and yet it holds a lot of significance in it. It denotes the very basic rights which any human being is provided with, in order to respect and dignify the beings. There are a range of human rights, which the individuals have been provided with, and one of such is the freedom of expression (Donnelly & Whelan, 2017). In United Kingdom (UK), the Human Rights Act, 1998, through its Article 10, provides the freedom of expression as a right of every person. This right is in terms of holding opinions, imparting and receiving ideas and information without being interfered. However, this article also provides that the freedom of expression exists only when the same is carried on in a responsible manner, where certain duties are fulfilled (UK Legislation, 2018). This Article is fundamental to the democracy of the nation (Liberty, 2018). This right is also the one which is often debated upon on the issue of the right to expression being too much, or whether there was a need to put limitations on this right. The proponents of freedom of expression state that it is their right, whilst the opponents provide that freedom of expression is often misused and therefore requires limitations to be put on it. Each point in favour of freedom of expression gets a counter point against it, and the vice versa is also true (Westin & Ruebhausen, 2015). This discussion is focused on the answering if limitations need to be put on this right, and where the same had to be put, to which limits this should be put. In doing so, the grounds for freedom of expression and the limitations of freedom of expression would be elucidated.
Imagine a world where any person could speak whatever they wished. This would be a world of chaos. To put it in reality context, what would happen when the prospective employees are asked about their sexuality or their religion during their interview? Would the advertisements in which the advertisers make fantastical claims on their products magically solving the problems of the consumers be acceptable? To highlight the gravity of this situation, should the attorneys of psychiatrists be allowed to publicise the information of their clients? It is very clear that all this should not be allowed. There is a need for a certain level of limitation to be place on the freedom of speech in every society, due to such good reasons. The notion of free speech has a lot of supporters, but there are a few only who do believe in it to be completed unrestricted. This is due to the fact that unrestricted free speech is not practical or feasible. The productive societies require line to be drawn, for politeness and peace to prevail. Any claim regarding the need for an unrestrained free speech is untrue. Just because one supports the limitations on free speech, does not mean that a person is pro censorship or that they are anti-debate. A leading example of this is Milo Yiannopoulos, who is a champ at internet trolls and free speech. The work he undertakes on the debate panels can be considered as the master class in avoidance and steamrolling. He does not engage in something which can be deemed as real conversation, and the sole reason for it is that hate speech cannot be worked with debate (O’Reilly & Walsh, 2017).
Hate speech is a leading problem, which results in a lot of criminal activities in the nation. Hate speech is something which has no rationality in it. It is highly unlikely that a person who puts forth extremely hateful views would be engaged in any level headed debate on that very topic. The sentiment, wishful one, regarding the emotional claims being overcome through the rational discussion is at best naive. Hate speech is not something which should be up for debate (Alexander, 2005). There is no need of carrying a discussion on debating that women are equally intelligent to men. And yet, such topics are becoming very common, and more and more prevalent with the ever prominent alt-right. Apart from this, the state has the power to put up certain restrictions, particularly on the destructive action of the citizens (Mendel, 2010). The individuals are made to drive within speed limits, and are not allowed to harm others; and where this is done, the individuals are punished. The same weight needs to be given to the consequences of such actions which are conducted through the words used by the person (Waldron, 2012).
Violence can be incited by professing hate. The famous proverb that pen is mightier than sword is a leading proof of it. The relentless online abuse, the death threats and the bomb threats, which even result in some cases of suicides, cannot be defended just in the name of free speech. The individuals do have a right of expressing themselves, doing what they wish, but this is possible as long as the freedom of other people, for doing the same, is not invaded. This is particularly important as an unbridled freedom of expression could breach the same right of others (Yong, 2011). The internet is the leading example of unbridled freedom of expression going completely wrong. The internet is taken as a platform which gives the individuals the opportunity of rousing the productive discussions and debates; and yet, this has been abused. The prime example of wrong use of free speech on internet is the articles posted on different websites. The comments were initially intended to be the extension on debates, changes and discussions on the articles, and yet it translated into hate filled mess. This is the reason why a number of media outlets have altogether removed the comment sections.
One of the leading websites ‘Vice’ stated that the spew of misogynistic and racist maelstroms in which the most offensive, stupidest and loudest opinions are mostly pushed at the very top, and due to these reasons, they opted out of the comments sections. The newspaper giant The Guardian reported that when they looked at their comments sections, they found a correlated between the blocked comments on an article to the journalist’s religion, sexuality or gender. The only rationale behind all this was a common denominator, which is hate. This was particularly due to the shortfalls in the rational conversations which continue the hatred to brew up. This requires the free speech to be limited, the intolerances to be tolerated, and freedom of expression as being a human right cannot be taken as a guarantee of undermining the rights of the others (O’Reilly & Walsh, 2017).
There have been some individuals who oppose the view presented above, and support the notion of free speech in its unfiltered and free form. The first and foremost put in thing regard is that the individuals need to be given the right of expressing their opinion. It has also been stated that freedom of expression is an integral part in the formation of any democratic society. In order for the person to express themselves in a free manner, they need to be protected against the conflict laws, particularly in the cases surrounding slander or libel. A fast becoming area for the battle between the freedom of expression and right to not be offended is seen at the university campuses. As per Free Speech University Rankings for 2017, around 94% of the 3rd level institutes in the nation had restrictions on freedom of speech at their campuses. In this, around 63.5% had major restrictions on the same. This is worrisome due to the fact that the universities are such places where the ideas need to be explored and shared, in place of being challenged. When the opinion of an individual is deemed offensive by the society, silencing such opinions would not work, in comparison to such opinions being challenged. There is a need to highlight the holes and the weakness in their points in place of suppressing these (O’Reilly & Walsh, 2017).
To go in the ethical direction of this discussion, the consequentialist theories are concerned with maximizing the value for others. Such values are derived from the value of autonomy, along with the ones who invoke these for freedom of expression to attain the maximum level of autonomy, instead of treating it as a constraint. In context of freedom of expression, the autonomy which is at stake is not of the speaker but of the audience (Alexander, 2005). To put it in a different manner, the autonomy interest of speaker is derivate entirely of such audience. When such audience is taken away, along with its interest in the communication content, the writing or speaking of the speaker becomes just a conduct which as no great association to the autonomy of the speaker than working in coal mine or hitting gold balls (Brownlee, 2016).
The autonomy theorists seek to maximize the autonomy but the same is not just affected by the regulations which are aimed at the communicative impact, i.e., the regulations which are designed for preventing the audience from learning about some information, hearing some opinions or arguments. Autonomy gets affected by regulations which also affect the opinions and information received by a person, i.e., through all the government regulations. This includes such regulations of the government which are far off from expression but affect the ideas received by a person, thereby influencing the self development, self respect and self rule of a person (Seglow, 2016). Apart from this, the interests, which are balanced against expression by the government, in terms of protection of privacy and security of property is frequently promote in the autonomy values. This shows that the consequentialist theories attempt to promote autonomy by freedom of expression which requires balancing mechanism (Brownlee, 2016).
Attempts have also been made to frame the matter of freedom of expression as being an argument of left versus right. The left are demonstrated as being radicals where the critics who do not conform in a complete manner to the acceptable worldviews are silenced. And on the other hand are the right, which are showcased as being the oppressed demographic of society, who are not able to speak their mind on any issue for the fear of aggressive backlash, in terms of the same being deemed as an offence, resulting in their indictment. The truth of the matter is that both the sides want a restriction over the opinions which can be expressed. Examples of this include a Trump supported being asked on whether the climate scientists should publicly disclose their workings, or where a Muslim should be permitted to pray in public areas. One would notice that these would highlight that universal freedom of expression does not hold the significance which people believe it to be holding. There is a need to take learning by examination of the Hegelian Dialectics. The discussion carried on by Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel holds particular significance here due to the triad of ideas like Thesis, Antithesis and Synthesis. This school of thought provided that there was a need to start with a proposition which is the thesis; followed by a negating or conflicting concept being introduced which is the antithesis; and lastly the conflict between these ideas result in synthesis, which is a new reconciliatory position (Hegel, 2015). When this logic is applied to the free speech, both sides would be benefited even though the same would flare up some controversial debates. This is due to the fact that the winning opinion would change and would also reform for betterment, as the same would be properly challenged. When the freedom of expression is restricted, the opportunity of refining and improving the viewpoints, by means of being challenged, through challenges and by opposing views being presented, is denied.
One cannot deny that freedom of expression being a crucial part of any democracy and that the placing of limitations is also very crucial. There is a need to put up restrictions on freedom of expression so that the chaos can be avoided by the society. Of course limited free speech cannot be seen as an eradication of free of expression (Sunstein, 1995). The world is at a stage where there is a need to put limitations, where the viewpoints are shared and challenged. Though, the key here is that freedom of expression should only be curtailed when the restrictions are justified. The placement of these limits has to be done in a careful manner, so that the speech is not prohibited or regulated in a quick or easy manner. Where the standards are set for limiting or restricting speech, it requires incitement to unlawful acts and the imminent violence being put on such limitations. However, just a racist comment which is made should not invoke a criminal law for banning the same. This is particularly when the racist comments do not call for physical attacks or would not lead to physical attacks or grave consequences (Baum, 2014).
Incitement of the racial hatred needs to be undertaken where it covers anti-Semitic comments or racist comments, as they create an ambiance of generalized hatred in the society (Debating Europe, 2015). It is the creation of this very atmosphere of hatred which results in assaults and physical attacks, even when the person expression their thoughts may not have intended such violence to take place (Rancière, 2014). There is a need to carefully analyse the factors which result in a psychological violence or harm being committed, which is to be penalized under the criminal law. This is the argument given in favour of hate speech regulations; but one cannot deny that regulating what is deemed as correct statement to what is deemed as the wrong statement, is an incredibly difficult task (Maitra & McGowan, 2012). There is no measure or a person who can state that certain views were insulting or offensive, and the others were not. Where this route is emphasized by the law, it would make way for subjective feelings, which needless to say, is a difficult area to regulate (Waldron, 2012).
There is a need for permissible restrictions to be placed on the freedom of expression, in such a manner that it adheres to the Article 10 of the Human Rights Act, 1998, and new regulations. These new regulations have to be framed in a manner that the limitations are provided through the law, and that the protection of the members of public and their rights is necessarily undertaken. The term necessary here is to refer to the exceptional reasons for imposition of such limitations. These limitations for the have to be imposed on exceptional reasons which have to be defined in a narrow and clear manner, which are applied by the bodies independent of any unwarranted, political or commercial influences, and is done in such a manner which is neither discriminatory nor arbitrary, along with being subjected to the pertinent safeguards against the abuses, which includes the right of accessing a tribunal or independent court. These limitations have to respect the principles regarding the notion that no one should be penalized for the statements which are false. Further, the individuals should not be penalized under criminal law, where the individual disseminates hate speech, till it is shown that the same was done with the intent of inciting violence, discrimination or hostility (Schmidt, 2010).
When these sanctions are imposed on any individual, these have to be applied based on some of the generalized principles. There is a need to take care in application of the restrictive and intrusive measures for minimizing such effects of freedom of expression which are particularly chilling. Furthermore, any kind of sanction being imposed has to strictly follow the proportionality principles. The offenses which involve freedom of expression should not be considered under penal code. The most crucial part is for the limitations to be formed in such a manner that it clarifies the only objective as being the protection of people who hold certain opinions or beliefs, instead of safeguarding the belief system from being criticized. The freedom of expression as a right shows that it has to be open to scrutiny, be openly debated, criticized, be it unreasonably and harshly, the opinions, institutions, and belief systems, so long as they do not result in being the advocate of hatred against people. Though, this does not mean that one should be unreasonable or harsh (Schmidt, 2010).
Thus, from the discussion carried in the previous segments, it can be concluded that freedom of expression is an important human right given to the individuals and there is a need to uphold this right. However, in doing so, there is a need to maintain certain limitations, so that the ill effects of complete freedom of expression can be avoided. Freedom of expression is something which is strengthened due to the operation of concepts like consequentialism, autonomy and democracy. On the other hand, it is limited due to the operation of concepts like hate speech, incitement and offence. There is thus a need to adopt the learning of the Hegelian Dialectics. There is a need to adopt the triad of ideas like Thesis, Antithesis and Synthesis, which would enable in bringing forth new regulations which could limit the freedom of expression, with a theme of upholding the human right given to the individuals and in their rights being protected. This would allow for the best of both worlds to exist, where the freedom of expression is continued to be imparted as a human right to the individuals, and the negative impact of the same is give away with.
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