Importance of Access To Freedom of Speech In a Country

All over the world today, both in developing and developed states, liberal democracies, and less free societies, there are groups who struggle to gain full access to freedom of expression for a wide range of reasons including poverty, discrimination, and cultural pressures. While attention is often, rightly, focused on the damaging impact discrimination or poverty can have on people’s lives, the impact such problems have on freedom of expression is less or rarely addressed.

The recent outpouring of #uhuruwakujieleza thrust the issue of freedom of expression to the forefront Tanzania. There is/was an outpouring number of people adamantly defending free speech as a foundational principle to a healthy and free society of Tanzania on Twitter. Much of the debate focused on the intersection between media law and media ethics.

We are not talking about the classic examples of challenges to freedom of expression where repressive regimes attempt to block, limit and inhibit across a population as a whole. Rather we are looking at cases wherein both more and less free societies particular groups face greater barriers to free expression than the wider population. Such groups can often be denied an equal voice and active and meaningful participation in political processes and wider society. Poverty, discrimination, legal barriers, cultural restrictions, religious customs and other barriers can directly or indirectly block the voices of the already marginalized. How much do these barriers and lack of access to freedom of expression matter? A lot – as the examples below tell us

Why is access to freedom of expression important? we can all agree that Freedom of expression is a fundamental human right. It also underpins most other rights and allows them to flourish. The right to speak your mind freely on important issues in society, access information and hold the powers that be to account, plays a vital role in the healthy development process of any society.

Political communication researchers have long deemed a free and developed media system as democratically essential.  In a democratic society, informed and engaged individuals weigh-in on societal affairs, making a free press instrumental. By and large, educating the public on matters of social and political concern falls to the media.

Freedom of expression contributes to the “marketplace of ideas,” a concept popularized by John Stuart Mill. Ideally, allowing individuals to voice diverse and even controversial ideas and opinions leads to desirable and vetted sociopolitical solutions. This permits people to air their grievances and works as a pressure release valve, helping to curb violent uprising by the population. The freedoms of the press propositions closely link media freedoms with democracy development, as well as sociopolitical stability.

In a 2014 World Bank research project, Sanjukta Roy found that in Sub-Sahara Africa, developed media systems that maintained higher levels of press freedoms linked to lower levels of political risk. In other words, countries that have freer media are less likely to experience violent political uprisings and transitions.

Access to free expression is also vital both to support the development process and as a development goal in its own right. The connection was perhaps most famously put forward by Amartya Sen in his widely cited book — Development as Freedom — where he argued that expansion of freedom is both the primary end and the principal means of development. It is striking to note the way in which cultural and religious customs are sometimes used to clamp down on various minorities’ rights to expression and assembly in many countries around the world. Human Rights Watch’s latest world report states that “traditional values are often deployed as an excuse to undermine human rights (Freedom of Speech).”

Full access to freedom of expression is fully difficult to achieve in the absence of universal education and literacy. Around the world, illiteracy and inadequate (or non-existent) education hit the poorest hardest – both because education is often private and because in poor countries where it is provided by the state, the standard of education can be low. Women and girls in the developing world are the groups most affected by illiteracy. Addressing this gap will make a huge impact to a countries well being.

The barriers to free expression discussed here show why exercising our right to free expression is not as simple as living in a democratic society that broadly respects rights. Barriers that block or inhibit access to freedom of expression exist all over the world, in various forms and to varying degrees. Through being denied a voice, these citizens are being denied a fundamental right, are facing barriers to their active participation in society, and, in many cases, are facing additional limits on their ability and opportunity to play a part in improving their own lives. Tackling the barriers from poverty to discrimination to laws that limit access to freedom of expression is vital and by protecting and championing freedom of speech it becomes a long-term societal benefit.

Source: Different online sources.