Last week in our BNC session, we did an activity where we talked about perspectives and opinions and how these can affect people's views of what is happening in Myanmar. A member of the group suggested that sometimes particular perspectives can be hurtful, disrespectful and can even fuel discrimination. That got me thinking: should these views be shared at all or just kept hidden inside? Should people whose opinions might be harmful have the right to share them?
I did some research into Article 10 of the Human Rights Act: the part which talks about freedom of speech and expression. According to the Act, this Article is fundamental to our democracy, which I think we can all agree is a positive thing for a country. It means we’re free to hold opinions and ideas and share them with others without the State interfering – which is crucial to keeping our Government accountable. Article 10 protects your right to communicate and express yourself in any medium, including in words, pictures and actions. It’s often used to defend press freedom and protect journalists’ sources.
The Article covers:
political expression – including peaceful protests and demonstrations
commercial expression – particularly when it also raises matters of legitimate public debate and concern.
This all sounds fantastic, doesn't it? And I'm sure most people would say that freedom of speech is one of the most basic human rights and one which should be protected at all costs.
However, I then came across something which I found shocking. The Act goes on to say that the right to free expression would be meaningless if it only protected certain types of expression. Therefore it protects both popular and unpopular expression – including speech that might shock and hurt others!
This means that people can say whatever they want about anything- including race and religion- and this is protected by the Act!! To me, this isn't right for several reasons:
1. People can purposefully hurt others by sharing their opinions and perspectives.
2. People can share racist and discrimatory opinions on social media platforms such as facebook and instagram. This becomes even worse when the people sharing these opinions are well-known (as we discussed in BNC, people are often more likely to believe the opinions of those who are famous and highly regarded). Donald Trump, for example, often shares extreme viewpoints that could be harmful to the peace of the World!
3. People can set up groups on social media that might indoctrinate others or cause big fights and arguments.
It's difficult because as soon as you start restricting freedom of speech by banning certain members or groups of a community from sharing their opinions, you begin to pave the way for censorship and dictatorship. However, I also believe that freedom of speech can cause many difficulties, particularly where racist or disrepectful views are not challenged.
What do you think? Do you think everybody should have the right to say whatever they want or not?