Freedom of speech – the foundation of journalistic work

Freedom of speech means the right to publicly express one’s opinions.

It also includes the right to seek and receive information without intervention from others.

Freedom of speech is the requirement for securing many other central rights. Together with the freedom of peaceful assembly and association, it is one of the cornerstones of a democratic society.

Free communication is also a condition for effective democracy as the “right to acquire and spread information through all media” is only realised if the media is free and independent.

Free press is a central enabler and exhibitor of freedom of speech. Freedom of speech is a very important right for journalists whose work is based on the opportunity to present strongly critical views, for example of politicians and other decision-makers. Journalists must, however, adhere to good journalistic conduct in their work. This happens mainly through self-regulation.

In general, self-regulation is a guideline that is stricter and more accurate than international laws.

In general, self-regulation is a guideline that is stricter and more accurate than international laws. Just because something is not condemned by the international courts, that does not make it ethical.

Freedom of speech occasionally clashes with rights to protect privacy and reputation. The guidelines relating to these conflicts vary among national laws and journalistic codes of conduct in different areas. To guarantee the realisation of freedom of speech, politicians can be criticised in harsher words by the media than private people, who have not, by choosing their profession, placed themselves in a position of public power. In other words, the freedom of speech enjoyed by journalists is more extensive when the object of criticism is a politician, than when criticising “normal” people.

Freedom of speech is not a value that upholds itself. Freedom of speech is tested and reinforced daily both in journalistic work and in the lives of the general public. The freedom to receive information and to challenge the status quo by expressing criticism towards those in power is a fundamental right and the foundation of a functioning democracy.

Excerpts from international legislation on the freedom of speech

Article 19.

  1. Everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference.
  2. Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.
  3. The exercise of the rights provided for in paragraph 2 of this article carries with it special duties and responsibilities. It may therefore be subject to certain restrictions, but these shall only be such as are provided by law and are necessary: 1) For respect of the rights or reputations of others; 2) For the protection of national security or of public order (ordre public), or of public health or morals.

International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights


Keep Reading:

Censorship, self-censorship and the violations of freedom of speech; Censorship and Self-censorship in PalestineDiscrimination and equality and the work of journalists;
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This article was updated on January 20th 2020.