In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
( The Bible ,John 1-1)
One of the most astounding factor about the macrocosm is its diversity and uniqueness.The so called most successful species on planet earth,Human beings exhibit uniqueness in its highest forms.This is perceptible in the way we think , act and interpret. No two people see things exactly the same way.This is because shaping opinions is largely influenced by numerous factors varying from childhood experiences to information levels an individual possess.With opinions comes expression and the most common means of expression is ‘SPEECH’.The Oxford dictionary defines speech as ‘the expression of or the ability to express thoughts and feelings by articulate sounds’.Words possess an exceptional power to heal , hurt , harm and hinder.In a large canvas which houses a wide range of differences and similarities,words and speech have a considerable role to play.
Democracy is one of the most accepted political systems across the world.The very foundation of Democracy lies in certain significant factors.One such factor which distinguishes democracy from the most obnoxious dictatorship is the ‘Freedom of Speech’.In democratic sense , power is vested with people.The diverse opinions of people and its expression thus have a great importance and often influence a democratic nation.Worlds leading democracies provide their citizens the right to speak and to express.One factor that distinguishes democratic nations from each other is differences in laying out boundaries of freedom of speech.Thus ,in all democratic societies of the world today `,Freedom of speech still possess certain ambiguities and is evaluated critically.
Freedom of Speech is stated as Article 19 of the preamble of Universal Declaration of Human Rights and is mostly recognized by countries all over the world.However it is a paradox that the extent of Freedom differs largely in different countries even when the article 19 says Freedom of Speech is regardless of frontiers.The importance of Freedom of speech can be viewed in different dimensions. The political view in which laws against sedition existing in various democracies needs evaluation,the constitutional view wherein the existing laws that hinders freedom of speech, questioning the ideology of Democracy.
To analyse the need for freedom of speech,an evaluation of incidents of past and reformations that took place in governance can help.Democracies that we see across the world are always under construction and moving towards perfection.When a country opts for a democratic form of government,it has to pass through large number of complexities and problems.Each country will have a considerable uniqueness in the structure and foundation of democracy.This is because different nations will have different kinds of people,different compositions,different social and economic scenarios and so on..It is by considering all these factors that a governing system evolve.Democracy is built and strengthened with the objective of accommodating interests of all sections of people and enhancing their quality of life.It is the government of the people,by the people and for the people as stated by Abraham Lincoln. Now,when the architects of a constitution frame policies and guidelines to accommodate majority interests,there is one result that they will look for.Both the politicians and the citizens should trust and accept the democratic system that is established.For this,the citizens should be committed to perform certain duties and shall possess certain rights .Freedom of Speech is one such right that the citizens possess in almost every democracies that we see today. Freedom of speech plays a cardinal role in the progress and development of society.
The world we live today is the product of ideas and innovations of past.Since primitive age,we can trace out clearly how the greatest transformations that influenced mankind took place.These were deep rooted and resulted from off-center thoughts and its expressions of individuals. Beyond doubt, we can say that it was the exchange and expression of ideas that opened the door to progress and development.If people of past were restricted in their ‘freedom of speech’ , we would surely be standing centuries behind in terms of progress.Concerning the political and constitutional aspects of democracy the primary means for enhancing the quality of governance is through constructive criticisms ,identifications and rectification of errors.One thing common to the great reformers like Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King was that they had a vision and ideology of a better tomorrow. History gives us clear outline of how freedom of speech and expression aided the greatest transformations of these great visionaries. One of the biggest events in history , the French revolution had crucial turning point when reformers like Brissot fought for freedom of theatre. Theatre at that time was venue of free speech and expression of people.Curbing freedom of theatre was denying liberty according to Brissot. Revolutionaries of France considered this freedom of theatre as a great tool ,especially after storming of Bastille prison.While there were differences in opinion about free speech and expression in France,its impact on the Revolution which chiseled the polity of France to perfection is remarkable. There is no such thing as an ideal democracy.It is meant to travel constantly to perfection with reformations and alterations.Freedom of speech provides a mechanism for equilibrium between Changes in society and stability of society.It is through debates and discussions that the democracy develops itself. Free speech lets people express their opinions , likes and dislikes on policies and practices of the state which is one great way of curbing malpractices and enhancing quality of administration.
Media was earlier a means to convey information about incidents.Newspapers and Televisions informed us of latest technologies,natural calamities,political changes etc..As we examine the modern day press and Media ,we can see a visible change in orientation and the objectives it stand for.It is now a platform of discussion,debates and analysis of happenings around us.Any significant policy implementation in a country will be discussed,debated and questioned by today’s media.This media culture provides two advantages.One,The policy makers and politicians will be aware of the fact that their deeds and words are open for discussions and criticisms. The second is that the common man will be aware of intricacies of everything. Media is also a platform of common man to express his views.Thus Free speech helps in discovering truths and facts through public discussions and debates which in turn strengthen democracies.
Curbing the right to speak and express will certainly jeopardize public interests and the ideas of common man.When the citizens are deprived of their rights,there will naturally be unrest among them.This will consequently lead to movements against the government and may ultimately result in the collapse of Democracy.This type of change may result in establishment of anti-democratic governments as we have seen in many incidents.On the contrary,Freedom of Speech is a powerful and useful tool for citizens to contribute to individual,social and national growth.
“With great power comes great responsibility” ,the words of famous French philosopher,Historian and writer Voltaire holds true in case of Freedom of speech.In democracy , “Freedom of speech” is the greatest power its citizens can exercise.Democracies across the globe uphold this right,but with certain conditions.One of the charismatic orators the world have ever seen is the Nazi leader Adolf Hitler.Through his persuasive speeches,Adolf Hitler could gain support and solidarity of large masses and left his signature in the darkest episodes of past.He could create a censorship by effectively using Speech as a tool.This paradigm of misusing words clearly points out why certain conditions are necessary regarding freedom of speech .Today the space and audience that we possess is ten or twenty times that people had 20 years ago.Social media,social networks,and the present living environment assures that what you say can make a considerable impact and will never go unnoticed.This wider space can be used constructively.At the same time there is another side which leaves an option for its destructive use.Sir Winston Churchill,former prime minister of United Kingdom once said “Some peoples idea of free speech is that they are free to say what they like , but if someone says anything back,its an outrage.The probability of such a situation is large especially in democracies with significantly different and diverse population.The diversity may be in terms of religion,income or political views.In a pluralistic society,unconditional exercise of freedom of speech can make negative and even destructive impact.It would be like opening a Pandora’s box.If ones point of view comes in direct conflict with ideologies and believes of the other, it can trigger a dispute between the individuals or between communities , may be on a bigger scale.It is also to be noted that a controversial statement often leaves ripples and repercussions in the society which can be mild initially but can cause harm in large scale subsequently.Unconditional freedom of speech should be practiced in a society which is sane and civilized completely and perfectly.However,this is a rare or rather a hypothetical situation.Thus,conditions are necessary in democracies else it leaves a chance of creating unrest among one or the other section of people and can invoke violence and can even lead to disintegration of democratic societies.
If a society is provided absolute right to freedom of speech,it can be an avenue for all kinds of abuses.Anyone can tell anything about everything anywhere.This can be used to misinterpret facts and mislead public from the truth.Fringe elements in the society , organizations and individuals with destructive intentions will utilize this powerful means for inciting violence and hatred in a society.Especially in countries with less educated people, it is possible that incidents can be misinterpreted and can lead to undesirable results.Another important need for conditions is because absolute freedom can be a threat to national security.During the 1780’s to the 1800’s , the United States had to go through intense test of Survival.The Quasi-War between America and the Republic of France threw America into a difficult situation.The United states had to attend two problems.They had to encounter the greatest European forces of at that time,The French Republic and Imperial Britain. At the same time, they also had to address the growing internal conflicts during this period which was influenced by the French and the British.As the situation grew complex and tense,American government found it difficult to maintain neutrality. In view of upcoming war with these mighty forces of Europe, the Federalists enacted Sedition law to protect the country from being in the hands of England .The United states prosecuted leading vocal critics and newspapers of that time.It clearly meant violation of First amendment of Constitution of the United states which provided freedom of speech to its citizens.This is a typical instance where restrictions to rights should be imposed.If the sedition law was not implemented,the newly formed government of the United states would have collapsed.
However,even today there are different views on Sedition laws which are in direct conflict with Freedom of Speech.In the past few years,India also had instances which raised need for sedition laws even though there are different views on the need to control and the need to to eliminate control. Also,control have to be placed on this right if it is used to evoke violence or hamper the law and order of the country.Statements that can affect relationship between countries needs to be restricted.Such statements can be a spark to the powder keg which may have disastrous repercussions as far as a democratic nation is concerned.It is important that the restrictions are ‘Reasonable’.The scope of ‘Reasonable’ is subjective .Thus, restrictions should be such that it is fair to the majority of society.Also,the Sedition laws in democracies must be clear , solid and unambiguous to prevents its misuse.
Years ago,when the United nations drafted a charter,there was no mention about democracy in it.Still,the organization till today have always stood for the idea of Democracy and its highest values.Fostering and accepting its principles,many developing and Developed nations today move on the wheels of democracy and not failing to protect the rights of its people.Freedom of Speech is the most necessary right an individual must have in a democracy.Rights comes with conditions because it is sometimes essential to eliminate the possibility of Misuse.Few coins in an empty shell makes large noise.Same is the case when the rights are absolute.Few ill minded individuals or organisations can create catastrophic results in a large scale.A valuable right ,which is meant to carry a nation forward can be ,misused by vested elements for disintegration of the same democratic nation ,especially in countries like India where large section of population are illiterate or semi literate and a many diversities in religious beliefs,languages,habits etc..exist.Even in states like Kerala where the literacy rate ,social and political awareness are high compared to the national standard,many incidents stand as examples of misutilization of Freedom of Speech.It is really shocking that many famous persons including writers,scholars etc..and media establishments stood with the elements who were behind such incidents in the name of Freedom of speech and expression.
All these instances around us point out that freedom of speech serves its purpose in a society where individuals are vigilant and have a deep rooted belief in the democratic ideals.As in case of any freedom,freedom of speech should be exercised with responsibility. Instead of an idealistic approach,Freedom of Speech should be evaluated and approached in a pragmatic sense.Rights exercised with responsibility and respect strengthens the very foundation of Democracy .Democracy and democratic consciousness of people ensures the right use of Freedom of Speech and this freedom is most necessary driving force in the journey of democracies towards perfection.