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Freedom of expression is to be considered as a truly inflammatory topic. However it is very difficult to argue, in the interest of social cohesion, that the former should undergo any form of limitation. However it is precisely this argument that this train of thought will attempt to defend.

 “If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear” affirms George Orwell. These words strike at the very essence of the right that is freedom of expression.

It finds its, most universal, definition under article 19 of the UN’s Declaration of Human Rights in the following terms: “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”.

It appears to be self evident that freedom of expression is the fundamental pillar on which democracy has been built. Accordingly, any effort to limit, all or any part of it, constitutes an act of censorship, and therefore must be categorically opposed.

As is the case in many constitutions, is it not written under article 3 of the French Constitution of 1958 “That the sovereignty of the nation resides in the people”? Consequentially, what instrument is better suited to ensure honest governance, where the will of people is respected, if not that of freedom of expression?

It is therefore necessary that any analysis of these questions must examine two key notions; firstly, the incoherent nature of censorship in any democratic society, and secondly, the latter’s ineffectiveness which renders its use totally absurd in contemporary society.

It would appear obvious that the notion of “limited freedom” is a paradox in itself.

The case of Handyside c United Kingdom, which was ruled on by the ECJ in 1976, underlines the fact that even in the case that the content of a directive is deemed shocking, or even injurious to some, it remains in the general interest that the point of view in question be represented.

It is therefore, quite difficult to comprehend why a notion as fallible as censorship should be allowed to limit the scope of this freedom?

This is to say that censorship is a term that evolves according to the political, social and cultural context of a given country. This is exemplified by blasphemy legislation, which no longer exists in France since the adoption of the law, in regards to freedom of the press, on the 29th of October, 1881, even though this is still considered a crime in other European countries such as Germany. This can be explained by the evolution of the role accorded to religion in French society. According to a study conducted by the American institute Gallup in 2009, France is ranked 9th amongst the world least religious countries. This explains the judiciary’s lassitude to rule in favor of the protection of religious rights when the latter enters into dispute with freedom of expression. This demonstrates that the application of the law is dependant, to a certain extent, on the morals, values and customs of the public at large, the context of which is constantly evolving.

How then can censorship be immune to interference if the state were to decide to trample on the rights of its citizens, in the name of arguments as vague and subjective as “public interest” or maintaining “public order”?

Consequently, censorship remains too fallible and susceptible to abuse to be utilized as a limiting instrument of a higher and constant norm, such as freedom of expression.

Furthermore, the former has a tendency to limit social debate; this itself calls into question its purpose of acting in the public’s interest. In France, the Gayssot Act of 1990, which despite its merits, constitutes a dangerous precedent, due to it’s almost Orwellian nature, by outlawing any historical discussion on the tragedy of the holocaust. The same can be said of State injunctions which have been used by various governments to control certain fluxes of information. As is seen in the case of the injunction brought against The Guardian on the 31 of January 2013 by the British Government, which effectively forced the Newspaper to destroy a hard drive on which documents, given to them by Edward Snowden, had been stored.

One may conclude that despite censorship’s appearance of a defending force in protecting the infringement of the rights of others, it benefits far more the state than its citizenry.

 

It is interesting to underline the fact that the use of censorship has never hindered its systematic violation.

This can be illustrated by the current state of affairs in China. According to an article published by the International Courrier on the 24 of September 2014, Chinese activists have begun to use a system of abbreviated URLs to access uncensored mirrored sites. This demonstrates the will of the individual to express his views is more important than the obvious risk this poses to his person.

However, this is not the principal criticism one may level at censorship; the principal argument being, the emergence of a digital era due to the expansion of the internet. Information can be exchanged on mass, on a scale so infinitely great, that even the KGB would find the supervision of its contents daunting.

Consequently, in so called “Democratic” countries such as; the UK or the US, who in the absence of adequate judicial instruments allowing them to control these fluxes of information, they are obliged to adopt more restrictive measures in regards to freedom of expression; such as the Anti Terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 or the Patriot Act 2001. However despite the implementation of these legislative instruments, States are obliged to employ tactics that go beyond the limits of legality, as can be surmised from the recent scandal involving the NSA in the Snowden affair.

The fact that the NSA has currently been brought in front of the Federal Court of the State of Maryland, for having hacked and stolen data of Wikipedia users, is very telling. However, the UN’s Consultative Commission on Human Rights published a report on the 22 February 2015, which encourages the incorporation of the dispositions laid out by the Freedom of the Press Act 1881 (In reality disposes the limits of this freedom) to all access suppliers present on French soil. This could be the beginning of the end; the age of a censor free internet may be behind us.

Where they burn books, they will also burn people » Heinrich Heine.

 

 

 

 

 

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