I have chosen to research “Freedom of Speech” rights in Australia and around the globe. The reason I have chosen to research this issue is that it has been a topic of debate for decades. The limitations of Freedom of Speech vary within different nations. In America, there is a “First Amendment”. This amendment allows freedom of religion, speech, the press, assembly and petition. In Australia, there is no “First Amendment” equivalent, there is an implied Freedom of Speech. However, this law only protects freedom of political speech. It acts as a shield against governmental prosecution, not private prosecution. The reason I have chosen to research this topic is that I want to see whether Freedom of Speech is contingent on other factors in a society (governmental and cultural values). Article 19 of the “Universal Declaration of Human Rights” states that everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression.
Freedom House is a reliable Non-Governmental Organisation that conducts research on democracy, political freedom and human rights. This organisation annually assesses every country on these liberties. Freedom House will be one of my sources for this research project. Freedom House also rates these countries out of 100 as an aggregate score of freedoms. I will be using it to assess the Freedom of Speech and expression within Australia.
Australia’s aggregate score is 98/100. 0 is “not free at all” and 100 is “very free”. Australia, has prosecuted many people against their Freedom of Speech rights. Since Australia doesn’t have an explicit clause on the Freedom of Speech, people are much more vulnerable to governmental suits. In 2006, an author delivered a public address about current social issues without a permit. The police officers present, didn’t arrest him at the time but videotaped him. The author was arrested for delivering a public speech without a permit.
Only 13% of the world’s population enjoys free press. Australia’s Freedom of Press score was 22/100, 0 being the “most free” and 100 being “not free at all”. Overall, Australia has a very dependable score, however, in the recent years there has been a constant threat to the press on what they can report. During March 2015, the Parliament created a new law that required all the internet and mobile phone providers to track and save all buyers’ metadata. Many journalists argued that this prevents the full freedom of the media, as they cannot securely interact with their sources due to the excessive surveillance. In 2015, the Government also restricted any media access to immigration detention centres.
In terms of Internet Freedom, Australia scores 21/100. 0 being the “most free” and 100 being “not free at all”. There have been many breaches of the Freedom of the Net. The government can access anyone’s metadata without a warrant, causing concern to many private citizens. 84% of Australians have access to the net.
According to Amnesty International, three-quarters of governments in the world are restricted from freedom of expression. One-third of governments lock up prisoners of conscience. 58% of countries conduct unfair trials, due to corruption.
My overall conclusion is that Freedom of Speech is a very complex issue. It is very difficult to remain impartial when deciding whether a past case was infringing on Freedom of Speech rights or just plainly offensive.
My own reflection on this issue is that the government can’t keep deciding what is free speech and what isn’t. The current laws regarding Freedom of Speech in Australia act more like “smokescreens”. These “smokescreens” tell the citizens that they cannot be prosecuted by the Government for anything they say, yet they can be prosecuted as demonstrated in multiple federal cases.
I personally believe that this issue is controversial because of the use and abuse of it. Different people value different things, some people value honesty and some people value peace. Therefore, I believe it’s very hard to decide “should Freedom of Speech be absolute or limited?” I believe that Freedom of Speech should have some restrictions. In many cases, such as child pornography, it isn’t a Freedom of Speech right, it’s an abuse on another person’s right and health. Freedom of Speech also shouldn’t be absolute in cases of provocative speech, slander, or any form of hate speech.
Yet, Freedom of Speech allows the world to evolve. It allows citizens to freely voice their thoughts on the constitution and help the society improve. For example, the most democratic governments rely on different parties to debate their policies and apply pressure to the opposition to come to a compromise. This essentially argues that just because your opinions aren’t the same as someone, doesn’t mean their opinion should be silenced.
In conclusion, Freedom of Speech should have some limitations. Not in terms of someone voicing their opinion, but in cases of slander or abusing someone else’s rights with malice.