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Treasuring "Freedom of Expression" Principle

Source: 12Petals Media Group

Every man who says frankly and fully what he thinks is so far doing a public service. We should be grateful to him for attacking most unsparingly our most cherished opinions.John Stuart Mill [1] - On Liberty

Cherishing and Realizing Culture of Human Rights, Individual Liberty, Free Expression, and Free Media

Freedom of Expression [2] is, undoubtedly, the touchstone of all other rights and freedoms, and is the foundation of modern democracy [3]. The core and dominant tenet of Freedom of Expression is the acceptance and acknowledgement of a self-assertive Individual, along with her/his individualized pursuit (function of one’s action and not fate-based) for happiness and the knowledge needed to realize it.

In brief, this principle is an essential formula for the full and hearty development of an individual. Being able to freely self-express is a fundamental right, and it is central to humanity.

This cardinal principle encompasses not only freedom of self-expression, but also Freedom of Thought , Speech, Press, Assembly and Association, Privacy, Media, and so forth. Indeed, the embedded intellectual hallmark of this freedom that is highly essential to progress and modernity in society honors pluralism of ideas [4], factual and intelligent inquiry, rationalism [5], critical thinking and reasoning [6], empiricism [7], and skepticism [8]

Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) reads, “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression.” Additionally, this Article confirms that freedom of opinion and expression includes the freedom to hold any type of ideas without interference, to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas free from any type of constraints and barriers. [9]
Furthermore, the principle of Freedom of Expression is well-linked to the individual liberty concept - freedom is vital to individual growth. Generally speaking, in order to explain liberties we are to, in the first place, push back the boundaries to the maximum possible extent; the same is applicable to the freedom of expression.

Equally important, the principle of Freedom of Expression embraces the freedom to impart and broadcast ideas through any media, which means every individual shall have an equal opportunity of access to the media, particularly the mass communications media. This is why monopoly of media whether by governments or non-governmental organizations, and also censorship [10] are flagrant violations of the freedom of expression principle. On the other hand, the instances of the freedom of expression need to be understood broadly; and that means inclusion of various issues ranging from freedom of media to freedom of fashion and dress choice and so on.

Article 19 (UDHR) affirms that enjoying the freedom of expression shall not be subject to boundaries. Nevertheless, the exercise of this right carries with duties and responsibilities because “undisciplined freedom is an abuse of liberty.” [11] To protect rights of others and to safeguard public, Article 19 (3) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) [12] sets legitimate limits for the freedom, which includes:

1. Respect of the rights or reputations of others;

2. The protection of national security or of public order or of public health or morals.

The instances of limits for the freedom of expression include disclosure of private/personal information, broadcasting hate speech,  racism, advertising violence and extremism, and call for savagery, genocide, complete obliteration of a homeland, and destruction of the cultural heritage sites and environment in the cloak of dogmatic or religious beliefs and observances.

The last, but not the least, important issue about the Freedom of Expression Principle is the responsibility of the State to secure, actualize, and promote the freedom of expression. To shield liberty and freedom for everyone, the government has a positive (obliging action) and negative (obliging inaction) responsibility. The government must avoid any interference that can potentially violate the people’s freedom (negative responsibility), also it has to provide all individuals with the requirements needed for realizing, upholding, securing, and promotion of the freedom of expression (positive responsibility).

Viewed from this perspective and considering commitment to the reciprocal social contract [13], whose participants are the citizens and the government (rulers), the State is responsible for securing the exercise of rights and actualization of freedoms. This understanding signifies the fact that in modern democracies, the government has no other duty, and the government is only the representative of citizens according to a mutually agreed upon social contract.

In that light, it needs to be highly stressed that human rights and fundamental freedoms are pre-existing phenomena, and they are not privileges granted by the government to the citizens. If a government violates any of these rights and freedoms, it will be regarded illegitimate for breach of mutually accepted and agreed upon social contract. Besides the State’s obligation, Freedom of Expression Principle, as a fundamental freedom, needs to be realized, upheld, and promoted by all democratic institutions that are accountable before citizens and their members/supporters who have democratically elected them.

For enjoying fundamental freedoms, citizens and government should agree upon the relations of power and rights and liberties. In so doing, the power (authority) of safeguarding exercise of the liberties is given to the State by the people, for the people. Subsequently, the government is expected and entitled to stop and prevent discriminatory, biased, or prejudiced expressions (sexually, religiously, ethnically, and so on), whether in forms of speech or non-verbal manners in order to uphold and protect the rights and liberties of all the individuals that constitute a nation.

Keeping in mind the account of past and present  authoritarianism and totalitarianism helps to place much greater understanding and appreciation of the battle for treasuring the principle of Freedom of Expression.

“Books won’t stay banned. They won’t burn. Ideas won’t go to jail. In the long run of history, the censor and the inquisitor have always lost...” - Alfred Whitney Griswold [14]

12Petals advocates a culture of human rights and responsibilities, and with this mission hopes that Freedom of Expression Principle be highly praised, cherished, and fulfilled by all members of the society.

Your viewpoint is very important to 12Petals Media Group. Please share your view and thoughts.

1). John Stuart Mill
2). Freedom of Expression
3). Modern democracy
4). Abbas Milani, Lost Wisdom: Rethinking Modernity in Iran (Washington D.C.: Mage Publishers, 2004), p.38.
5). Rationalism
6). Critical thinking and reasoning
7). Empiricism
8). Skepticism
9). Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR)
10). censorship
11). Webster’s New World Dictionary of the American Language, College Edition (Cleveland and New York: The World Publishing Company, 1959), “license,” p.845.
12). International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)
13). Social Contract
14). Alfred Whitney Griswold

Acknowledgement and Credits
Project Development:
By: 12Petals Media group

Project Executive: Majid Baradar
Project Writers: Omid M. and Majid Baradar

Artwork Credit:
Graphic Designer/Artist: Anna Felisha Ott
Image Production By: 12Petals Media Group, Treasuring Freedom of Expression Principle. 2013
Special thanks are extended to all those who keep supporting and contributing to 12Petals’ culture of human rights and responsibilities collaborative advocacy projects.

Persian translation of this culture of human rights advocacy/outreach project can be seen here.

About 12Petals: 12Petals Media Group strives to be a union of visual artists, musicians, filmmakers, cinematographers, playwrights, social entrepreneurs and more, all coming together to produce inspired multimedia pieces that promote and encourage respect for those rights protected by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

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