What is Freedom of Expression? What are the Limits of Freedom of Expression?June 27, 2021
Although many different definitions have been made in the literature on what freedom of expression is, freedom of expression in the broadest sense is “freedom to express a thought, belief, opinion, attitude or emotion through peaceful means or to express it to the outside world” (Erdoğan, 2003:37- 9), not to be condemned or blamed for them in case of their disclosure (Erdoğan, 2007:21).
Freedom of expression, as set forth in this definition, is considered as a negative freedom in the sense of not being exposed to any external interference. From this point of view, freedom of expression is valuable in the presence of any coercion. Otherwise, the issue of “freedom from” or “freedom of” has no meaning (Trager/Dickerson, 2003:38). Therefore, freedom of expression is the ability of everyone to have their own ideas and opinions and to express them in any way, without being subject to any restrictions.
Another aspect of freedom of thought and expression is the necessity of being considered together with the freedom to reach different ideas and opinions in order to have a certain idea and opinion. Because freedom of expression is, in a way, a matter of communication or communication. From this point of view, expression as a communicative act is an act towards others. Therefore, if a principle of freedom of expression is to be mentioned, it should still be evaluated on the basis of its ability to protect certain actions (Schauer, 2002:16). For this reason, any means of expression that provides the communication in question should be evaluated within the scope of freedom. Generally speaking, prohibiting the expression of any thought, provided that the means are legitimate, is essentially incompatible with the understanding of freedom. Therefore, the protection of all non-violent expressions is seen as a requirement of the democratic legal system. This means that not only pleasant thoughts, but also unpleasant thoughts should enjoy the benefits of freedom of expression. As the ECHR stated in its Handyside decision, freedom of expression is also valid for thoughts that disturb, shock or hurt the state and society.
There are some arguments regarding the philosophical defense of freedom of expression. One of these arguments is the “Self-Actualization Argument”. According to this, freedom of expression has an absolute value in order for people to make sense of their own lives and, accordingly, to direct it. Every person in society lives in interaction with others. Each individual has the freedom or autonomy to lead his own life according to his own character and abilities. Man develops his ontological potentials and realizes himself by expressing himself. What matters here is the value of freedom, not the tangible results of action. In other words, the value of autonomy is superior to the worthlessness that can be caused by the apparent results of an autonomous action (Sadurski, 2002:16).
According to the “Argument Based on Democracy”, which is another argument in the philosophical defense of freedom of expression, the participation of individuals in the administration and the protection of pluralistic structure and diversity depend on freedom of expression in a democratic administration that derives its legitimacy from the people. In democracy, citizens’ participation in government also depends on their ability to express their own thoughts, communicate with others in the decision-making process, and reach all kinds of ideas in order to transform the power of the people into the power of public opinion. Thanks to freedom of expression in a democratic structure, it will be possible for the legitimate opposition to protect themselves and to reach the common good through public criticism.
According to the “Discovery of Reality Argument”, another argument, freedom of expression is of vital importance in order to replace existing wrongs with truth. In this sense, two points are emphasized. First, there is the emphasis on the central role of freedom of discussion so that truth can replace wrong. Secondly, a free discussion process is guaranteed, and the important thing is that the process itself is rather than reaching the truth (Schauer, 2002:28-30). According to the argument, the discovery of reality is desirable for humanity and it is necessary to trust the human mind in this matter. Based on the fallibility thesis, it should be taken into account that generally accepted ideas may be wrong, and all kinds of thoughts should be allowed to express themselves in order to reach the truth. The basis of the argument, which is also expressed as the marketplace of ideas, is the belief that the truth will prevail in the competition of different ideas in order to reach reality.
According to the anti-paternalist argument, restrictions on freedom of expression aimed at preventing harm or benefiting individuals or society essentially mean disrespecting human will, freedom of choice and dignity (Erdoğan, 2003:41), limiting the characters and capacities of individuals and making them childish.