Censorship, Self-censorship and the Violations of Freedom of Speech

Even though freedom of speech and expression is based on human rights agreements, in practice freedom of speech is limited everywhere.

Even though freedom of speech and expression is based on human rights agreements, in practice freedom of speech is limited everywhere.

Censorship means a preliminary check by the officials, and prohibiting censorship is one of the core contents of freedom of speech. The purpose of censorship is to change or stifle acts, thoughts or publications, which are seen as repulsive, harmful, politically unwanted or for example contrary to the interests of the state officials.

Censorship can be divided into preliminary censorship and post-publication, punitive censorship. Preliminary censorship is the check of vocal, literary or visual presentations, the passing of which is a condition for the public presentation and circulation of the publication. Punitive censorship sums up all the negative consequences that the journalist may face when reporting on a certain topic.

Censorship means a preliminary check by the officials, and prohibiting it is one of the core contents of freedom of speech.

Making the work of journalists harder is one of censorship’s means. The international organization Reporters without Borders published a guide for journalists in 2009. According to it, over 170 journalists globally have been imprisoned for expressing the wrong opinions. As an example of the state of freedom of speech in the world, the organization’s report states that during the last 15 years over 800 journalists have lost their lives while doing their work.

Reporters without borders publishes yearly also the World Press Freedom Index. The index is a list of 180 countries in which the national freedom of press has been researched and analyzed through a questionnaire and local correspondents.

The index is a points-based system, where every country receives a comparison score between 0 and 100. The score is calculated by separately assessing the multivocality and diversity of values within the media, independence of the media, self-censorship, legislation, openness, transparency and the media infrastructure.

Additionally, the score takes into account the violence that journalists
have been subjected to, which is counted as the numbers of deaths, imprisonments, detainments and the number of journalists that have had to leave for exile.

For example, in 2016 the index places Palestine at 132nd and Israel at the 101st position. Even though in many cases it is not a question of direct censorship, self-censorship is a common phenomenon in these regions, and the self-regulation instruction of journalist is lacking.

The top positions were occupied by the Nordic countries Finland, Norway and Denmark. In general, press freedom was worse globally than the previous year, for the second year in a row.

Even though as a continent Europe is still in the lead, the rights of journalists are far from ideal also in Europe. Reports have paid attention to, for example, the insufficient protection that the law provides in France for the sources of journalists.

Limiting the press does not only affect professional journalists, but also the public,

In the leading country, Finland, the index paid attention to the centralization of media ownership, which is an internationally common trend of development. Television corporations, radio stations, papers etc. have grouped into large media conglomerates, where many different media function under the same roof.

Limiting the press does not only affect professional journalists, but also the public, who cannot receive critical and independent knowledge through newspapers, radio or television. The internet, which enjoys the constantly growing interest of journalists and regular users is increasingly the object of espionage and surveillance.

All in all, the Press Freedom Index has during the recent years been affected most markedly by the conflicts and wars in Syria and Ukraine and their neighboring countries.

Limiting freedom of speech is also often a tool of political power. During the recent years there has been a global trend which shows that the needs of national security are interpreted too extensively. This has been seen as something that limits the citizens’ right to receive information. The phenomenon makes the work of journalists difficult, especially those journalists, who aim to reveal malpractice or violations of constitutional rights by officials.

In self-censorship journalists limit their actions themselves: they limit expressing thoughts of which the journalists could get into trouble.

One of the countries whose position has most significantly dropped is the United States, whose standing has fallen from 20th place to 49th in five years. The fall is largely caused by the efforts made by the US government to track
people who have leaked politically sensitive information.

In self-censorship journalists limit their actions themselves. An example of self-censorship would be the reservation to express thoughts which can be considered touchy by the government, or of which the journalists could get into trouble.

A wider definition of self-censorship is limiting one’s own actions or statements to avoid offending or irritating others without the fear of violence or government intervention.

Are there limits for freedom of expression?

Article 19. of the Universal declaration of human rights states the following:
“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.”


Can you come up with situations where freedom of opinion or expression should be limited?
Do you, for example, find it problematic if extremist groups are allowed to run web pages or satellite stations or licensed newspapers to publish their opinion and express themselves and their right

Keep Reading:

Censorship and self-censorship in Palestine; Discrimination, equality and the Human Rights
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