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FREEDOM OF SPEECH

Freedom of speech is a person’s right to speak his or her own opinions, beliefs, or ideas, without having to fear that the government will retaliate against him, restrict him, or censor him in any way. Listen or read this excerpt from page 71 of the English for NGOs Student’s Edition.

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Audio Transcript for Recording #8: FREEDOM OF SPEECH

Freedom of speech is a person’s right to speak his or her own opinions, beliefs, or ideas, without having to fear that the government will retaliate against him, restrict him, or censor him in any way. The term “freedom of expression” is often used interchangeably, though the “expression” in this sense has more to do with the way in which the message is being communicated (i.e. via a painting, a song, an essay, etc.).

The ancient Greeks pioneered free speech as a democratic principle. The ancient Greek word “parrhesia” means “free speech” or “to speak candidly.” The term first appeared in Greek literature around the end of the fifth century BCE.

During the classical period, parrhesia became a fundamental part of the democracy of Athens. Leaders, philosophers, playwrights, and everyday Athenians were free to openly discuss politics and religion and to criticize the government in some settings.

What is Freedom of Speech

People are often confused by this concept, however, thinking that they can say anything that pops into their heads without repercussion. Just because you are allowed to say whatever you want does not mean that you will not suffer consequences as a result – it just means that the government cannot violate your right to do so.

The U.S. has many laws that place limits on speech and other forms of expression, which may be seen as harsh restrictions. These include prohibitions against defamation, slander, copyright violations, and trade secrets, amongst others. American philosopher Joel Feinberg posited what is known as the “offense principle,” which works to prohibit speech that is clearly offensive, or which can harm society as a whole, or a group in particular, such as racial hate speech, or hate speech aimed at someone’s religion.

Different countries have different rules insofar as freedom of speech is concerned, with some countries’ governments becoming more involved than other governments in the affairs of their citizens. Some authoritarian countries are often in the news for blocking their citizens’ access to the internet, and restricting their ability to both read and express ideas and beliefs of which their government does not approve. In the United States, examples of freedom of speech include criticisms against the government, and the promotion of ideas or beliefs that others might find to be controversial.

In Ukraine, Article 34 of the Constitution of Ukraine states:

Everyone shall be guaranteed the right to freedom of thought and speech, and to free expression of his views and beliefs.

Everyone shall have the right to freely collect, store, use, and disseminate information by oral, written, or other means at his discretion.

The exercise of such rights may be restricted by law in the interests of national security, territorial integrity, or public order, for the purposes of preventing disturbances or crimes, protecting the health of the population, protecting the reputation or rights of other persons, preventing the publication of information received confidentially, or supporting the authority and impartiality of justice.