What is Freedom of Expression? Concept, Origin | Updated 2019

What is Freedom of Expression?

We explain what freedom of expression is and how this human right originated. In addition, its limits and freedom of expression on the Internet.

Freedom of expression is an elementary means for the dissemination of ideas.

Freedom of expression is the right that every human being should enjoy, to express his opinions freely, to be able to publish or communicate them and, in turn, to be respected by others.

Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights state that this right must be guaranteed because it is essential for any human being to be able to fulfil himself and develop properly.

The constitutions of every democratic country also include this human right, also known as a fundamental right.

Freedom of expression is said to be an elementary means for the dissemination of ideas and the discovery of any truth.

There is no doubt that this human right is necessary for people to become aware of their surroundings and the world in general, as they will be able to exchange ideas and learn through free communication with others.

We could then say that freedom of expression is the ability to formulate ideas and, at the same time, to make them known.

On the political side, if the citizens of a given country feel that their rights to free communication are respected, the State will gain the trust and respect of its inhabitants.

In turn, if a government meets these characteristics, it will create in people a feeling in which their politicians are honest and capable of being in the corresponding positions. In this way, citizens will be able to have a critical and argued opinion when deciding who to vote for in elections.

The constant confrontation of the media against the rulers or opposition politicians helps to publicize any corruption or irregularity that occurs in the country.

At the same time, thanks to the media, a connection is achieved between citizens and their governors in which they can express any complaint, concern or thanks to the authorities.

Finally, one of the main reasons why it is important to enjoy this human right is that thanks to it, it makes it possible to denounce the non-fulfilment or necessity of any other right of persons that is not being fulfilled or that is not being respected.

What is the origin of freedom of expression?

Voltaire maintained that a world full of free men would give significant advances.

Although the right to freedom of expression was defined as such in 1948 in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, this concept has been spoken of since the Enlightenment years. Philosophers such as Voltaire, Rousseau and Montesquieu argued that a world full of free men would result in a significant advance in both the arts and sciences, and clearly in politics.

As in the French Revolution and the U.S. War of Independence, these ideals were the main arguments used by revolutionaries and had repercussions in most of the remaining Western countries.

Limits of freedom of expression

Generally speaking, freedom of expression will be limited when a given situation conflicts with other people’s rights or values.

That is to say, any act related to violence, crime or any other case that could cause damage to the other will not be considered as freedom of expression. If the limits of this right are broken, the person will suffer a legal sanction or even disapproval or social rejection.

After the First World War, the Geneva Conventions began to deal with issues such as security, respect, and some minimum rights that should correspond to the soldiers of the war.

It was not until 1948, after the end of the Second World War in 1945, that it was decided to deal with human rights in the General Assembly of the United Nations and, in this way, to create a set of rules and principles that would serve as a guarantee against the different public powers.

Freedom of expression on the Internet

The limits of this right are set in internationally established standards.

In 2011, it was declared in the Organization of American States that freedom of expression will be applied on the Internet in the same way that it is applied in any setting or context.

The limits of this right shall be established in internationally established standards. They must be provided for by law and must contain a legitimate purpose recognized by so-called international law.

However, regulations made for other media -such as radio or television- cannot be taken into consideration, but the case of the Internet must be analyzed in order to be able to design and establish specific conditions for this recent and powerful means of communication.

However, each website or Internet company has its own regulations to streamline the process and make the work of addressing or eliminating insulting expressions or behaviors more effective.

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