Freedom of expression is a universal entitlement that includes liberty to search for, obtain and communicate information and all types of ideas, irrespective of boundaries, either verbally, in any written form, in the form of art or through any other media of a person’s preference. It is important to uphold and protect the right to speak freely in any democratic society. Likewise it is important to put a few limitations on this entitlement to preserve social good, in light of the fact that no right should be totally unchecked. Below are the conditions where freedom of expression needs to be regulated.
Governing authorities have power to limit any activity that is detrimental to their ability to protect their citizenry. Reasonable limitations can be set on liberty of expression to uphold state security. State security refers only to heightened forms of public order which include rebellion, war and insurrection. It excludes commonplace violations of public order and safety like illegal assembly, unrest and commotion. Any individual expression which encourages violent criminalities, such as murder also undermines the security of the state.
The state can restrict liberal speech if it affects cordial relations with foreign countries. At the global stage, a country has to maintain cordial relations with other nations. Anything which has potential to affect such a relationship should be checked by government. The state can prohibit uncontrolled spiteful information against a foreign friendly nation, which may endanger the preservation of good relations with that foreign country. However preservation of friendly relations with foreign nations, would not warrant the clampdown of justified criticism of government foreign policy.
The state can inhibit liberty of expression to preserve public order. Public order goes beyond preservation of law and order. Public order is identical with public peace, security and peacefulness. Anything that disrupts public peace disrupts public order. Thus work stoppages advanced purposively to cause economic unrest are misdeeds against public order. Public order is signified with the absence of violence and disorderliness in which citizens can peacefully pursue their ordinary lives. Public order also includes public safety. Just mere condemnation of government does not necessarily disrupt public order. Embodiment of public order includes such utterances that have the tendency to lead to disorder. Thus a law which outlaws expression aimed at hurting the religious feelings of others is binding because it sets a limitation on the right of free speech in the interest of public order since such speech or writing has the propensity to create public disorder even if in some cases those actions may not actually lead to a fissure of peace. A reasonable and proper connection between the restrictions and the achievements of public order is needed.
A country can limit free expression on the grounds of decency or morality. Freedom of expression should not affect the morality of the society adversely. The standard of morality varies based on time and place. The trading or circulation or exhibition of obscene words in public places is prohibited. No fixed standard is laid down till now as to what is immoral and indecent.
Freedom of expression can be contrained to prevent contempt of court. The judiciary is integral in any liberal country. It’s essential to respect such an institution and its order. Thus, limitation on the liberty of expression can be set if it exceeds the reasonable and fair limit and equates to contempt of the judiciary. A person can be punished for some expressions against the courts except they were made in public interest.
Liberal expression is inhibited if it amounts to defamation: Ones’ liberty, be it of any type, must not affect the repute or status of another person. A person is known by his reputation more than his wealth or anything else. Fundamentally, a statement, which injures a man’s reputation, equates to defamation. Defamation exposes a man to hatred, ridicule, or contempt.
A state will not sanction free speech that weakens its sovereignty and integrity. The principal duty of government is to preserve its sovereignty and integrity. Straps on liberty of expression can be instituted against any challenge to national sovereignty and integrity. In the same vein, liberal expression doesn’t proffer a right to incite people into criminal acts. Criminality refers to any act or omission made punishable by law for the time being in force.
In conclusion, it is plain that the basis for limiting freedom of speech from a state perspective are binary. The first category is concerned with the national interest such as sovereignty and integrity, state security, cordial relationships with foreign countries and public order. The second category is deals with the interest of society such as decency, morality, disrespect of court and defamation.