Freedom of expression

The Universal Declaration on Human Rights (UDHR) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) guarantee the right to freedom of expression, both in Article 19. Freedom of expression is not only important in its own right but is also essential if other human rights are to be achieved.

For individuals

At an individual level, freedom of expression is key to the development, dignity and fulfilment of every person.

  • People can gain an understanding of their surroundings and the wider world by exchanging ideas and information freely with others. This makes them more able to plan their lives and to work
  • People feel more secure and respected by the state if they are able to speak their minds.

For states

At a national level, freedom of expression is necessary for good government and therefore for economic and social progress.

Freedom of expression and freedom of information contribute to the quality of government in various ways:

  1. They help ensure that competent and honest people administer the state. In a democracy, free debate about and between political parties exposes their strengths and weaknesses. This enables voters to form an opinion about who is best qualified to run the country and to vote accordingly. Media scrutiny of the government and the opposition helps expose corruption or other improprieties and prevents a culture of dishonesty
  2. They promote good governance by enabling citizens to raise their concerns with the authorities. If people can speak their minds without fear, and the media are allowed to report what is being said, the government can become aware of any concerns and address them.
  3. They ensure that new policies and legislation are carefully considered. Through public debate, members of the public with helpful opinions on a subject can present the government with a ‘marketplace of ideas’ from which to choose. Free debate about new legislation also helps ensure that the eventual law has the support of the population, making it more likely to be respected.
  4. They promote the implementation of other human rights. They help improve government policy in all areas, including human rights. They also enable journalists and activists to highlight human rights issues and abuses and persuade the government to take action.

For all these reasons, the international community has recognised freedom of expression and freedom of information as some of the most important human rights.