Human rights dilemmas

To enjoy human rights, one also has the duty to respect the human rights of others.

When two human rights contradict each other, a human rights dilemma arises. Human rights dilemmas and their resolution are part of the work of human rights courts.

Even though freedom of speech is the backbone of a democratic society, it can be restricted for certain, weighty reasons. The most common reasons that make governments restrict freedom of speech concern defamation, obscenity, pornography, inciting hatred, copyright violation, protection of privacy and maintaining general security and public order.

Examples of basic and human rights that can conflict and cause dilemmas:

  • Freedom of speech versus the protection of privacy and family life, and protection against defamation;
  • Freedom of speech versus hate speech;
  • The right to private property versus the right to a clean environment;
  • The right to private property versus the right to an adequate standard of living;
  • The right to freedom of movement and the right to enjoy asylum versus the sovereignty of nations;
  • The right to life versus the death sentence (permitted, but regulated).

Determinants of harming reputation in British law

In British law, a statement may be considered harmful to a person’s reputation if it leads to any of the following:

  • Exposes the person to hatred, ridicule or contempt.
  • Results in desertion or in being neglected.
  • Demeans and humiliates them in the community.
  • Causes the person harm in their work, profession or business.

Journalists may not defend dishonouring a reputation on the pretext that their station or newspaper was only repeating a statement that had been previously published elsewhere. Likewise, it is is not an acceptable defence for a publication to argue that it is only quoting another person, even if it encloses the quote in quotation marks.

Keep Reading:

Freedom of speech is the foundation of journalistic work; The Power of Journalism
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This article was updated on January 20th 2020.