GUEST POST: ON FREEDOM OF SPEECH vs RESPONSIBLE SPEECH 


My guest post for today is on a controversial topic that everyone regardless of social status or occupation has an opinion about. In this post Mopelola Fasakin shares her thoughts on what constitutes freedom of speech and the need for responsible speech.
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Freedom of speech is the concept of the inherent human right to voice one’s opinion publicly without fear of censorship or punishment. Speech is not limited to public speaking and is generally taken to include forms of expression. Freedom of Speech is your political right. It is your right to publish an article, have a social media account, write a book, or give a speech without restrictions. The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, adopted during the French Revolution in 1789 in Article II states that “The free communication of ideas and opinions is one of the most precious rights of every man. Every citizen may, accordingly, speak, write, and print with freedom, but shall be responsible for such abuses of this freedom as shall be defined by law”.

The components of this freedom include :

-Right to seek information and ideas

-Right to receive information and ideas

-Right to impart information and ideas.

Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states that “[e]veryone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference” and “everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression ;this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice ”

The concept of the freedom of speech is not a 21st century concept. History recorded the concept in 5th century BC. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1949) Article 19 states that “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. It is to our advantage in this generation that we have several media channels to access and disseminate information.

However, there is a striking subset of the freedom of speech. Every citizen is held responsible for the exercise of his/her right. Your freedom of speech by the law is largely in relation to the second and third party and the society at large. From the same Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, ‘the exercise of these rights carries “special duties and responsibilities” and may “therefore be subject to certain restrictions” when necessary “for respect of the rights or reputation of others” or “[for] the protection of national security or of public order (order public), or of public health or morals.”‘. This brings us to communication decency on the Internet.

I strongly believe that the Internet is a blessing to us. There are times I have wondered how people really lived in the pre-Internet. In this generation, ignorance is truly inexcusable. Information is just a click away. The world is truly an e-village, somebody in Malaysia is just a click away. Should we talk about the positive effects of the Internet on organisations and businesses? Time spent on queues have been converted to good use with the e-banking, online malls, etc. Businesses need less startup  capital, your online office could just be your blog, instagram page, Facebook or Twitter accounts. Journalism and customer relations have improved too. Same as governance. Revolutions, political campaigns, peaceful protests, citizen participation, information dissemination, the list is endless when we analyse how the Internet (especially via the social media) has improved governance. It is common knowledge that some countries censor the Internet and some people have been arrested over their use of the Internet. This appears to negate the right to exercise one’s freedom of speech.

The strength of the Internet is chaos. While you have the right to speak as you wish, your neighbour has the right to sue you for slander, libel, or whatever charge(s) his/her attorney finds you guilty of. There must be communication decency on the Internet. We must understand the harm principle and the offence principle.I find it very disturbing and mind-numbing, in fact, I shudder at the degree of insolence on the social media. I find it unbelievable that people think they are protected by the seeming facelessness the Internet provides or they are shielded by hiding behind their phone screens. When I see people throw insults around and use abusive words/taboos on unknown people on the Internet, I shudder in silence. Our generation is rude with impunity and we need to be more cautious and careful.  Personally, I consider it a privilege to interact with people from all works of life on the social media and I have made good connections through them. That does not confer on me the right to insult them even when we have different opinions. How would you feel if you got to realise that you called your professor a ” fool” on Twitter or your future boss an” idiot “on Instagram? Careless comments and unguarded remarks can land you in trouble if you do not exercise your rights responsibly. It is almost impossible to follow a discourse on Instagram (for example), without seeing people hurl insults at undeserving people. In an attempt to ddefend or take sides with the weak, people hurl more insults and the entropy increases. Is this normal? I beg to differ.  You can address ignorance without using derogatory words as “ignorant fool” on anybody. Let’s stop propagating hate and bitterness. #CharlestonShooting was the most painful global incidence in the past week and I am pretty sure we particularly observed how the bereaved and sympathisers drew the attention of the world with maturity. That gives justice the opportunity to take its course and ensured that peace reigned instead of some racial wars that would have left humanity wounded.

The good book says “Be kind to one another and build each other up”. Don’t sow words of anger. You never could tell how powerful the person you do not see is. When people come at you irresponsibly, handle it with utmost decency and honour. Accord people the respect and honour you expect from them. People are hurting in this present world, let’s not wreck more damage with our words.

Stand for Justice

Promote and Demand Good governance

Promote Peace

##SayNoToHateSpeech

##SayYesToResponsibleSpeech

Mopelola Fasakin is a Pharmacist and Researcher who finds expression in writing. She is inspired by nature and music and  loves charity and voluntary work.  Talk to her at mopefash@gmail.com or follow her on twitter @atmfash

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