Freedom of speech, enshrined in international law, is a fundamental tenet of human rights. It is expressed in the freedom to express one’s opinion and thoughts, both verbally and in written speech, and includes freedom of the press and the media. The absence of restrictions on this right by the state today is an indicator of the development of democracy in various countries. However, there is a limitation of this right, as well as of any other right, which is expressed in the principle “where the right of another begins, the right of one stops”. States can also limit the freedom of speech for their citizens, offering various approaches to the issue. This essay provides a comparative analysis of the limits of freedom of speech in USA, Japan, China, Italy, and African countries.
Freedom of Speech in the U.S.
The first amendment to the US Constitution forbids the state to interfere with the freedom of speech of any citizen or press in any way; however, this prohibition does not apply to individuals. This means that a private publisher can refuse any person to print their book, as well as a private owner of a magazine, newspaper, radio or television station can refuse to publish certain material. Social networks in the United States are owned by individuals, and these individuals have every right to deny a particular person an account. According to the US Constitution, the government cannot restrict the freedom of speech of a private person, but also cannot force a private person to publish anything.
Even the most controversial and offensive forms of expression are protected from government harassment by the US Constitution. At the same time, regulation of freedom of speech is allowed only in limited and narrowly defined circumstances. The core of the American system is the belief that an open and free exchange of thoughts promotes understanding and the search for truth, and also makes it easier to refute lies. On the basis of practical experience, it has been established that the most effective way to combat offensive forms of self-expression is not prohibitions, but reciprocal self-expression.
Freedom of Speech in Japan
Recently, journalists in Japan have been worried about the growing tacit pressure on the media. In 2021, Japan holds 67th place in the world ranking of countries with a free press (Reporters without Borders). They have even released a statement in which they expressed concerns about non-compliance with the principle of freedom of speech. It follows from the document that many media outlets, including opposition ones, refrain from criticizing the government. In addition, special bodies oversee publications on public authorities – for example, the Imperial Household Administration Service keeps a close eye on all publications about the Emperor and members of the Imperial family. Officially, Japan has a democratic regime, and there is neither total control over the actions and moods of the population, nor discrimination based on gender or nationality. However, more and more facts emerge, albeit small, indicate the pressure on the press, the opposition, and certain groups of people who disagree with the government’s course.
Freedom of Speech in China
The People’s Republic of China has certain problems when it comes to the issue of the freedom of speech. Rights and freedoms of people in China have a pronounced socialist orientation, since they serve the goals and objectives of building socialism in the country. Many of the basic rights and freedoms are distributed in accordance with one’s social class. Following the socialist constitutional and legal tradition, the Chinese legislators focus on the rights of a citizen, and not a person in general. Zhang and Wang state that “with the rapid development of China’s social economy, the promulgation of specialized laws remains necessary and inevitable in the realization of the supervision of the press control” (431). The Chinese Constitution denies the concept of “natural rights” – rights and freedoms are granted to the citizens of the state only by the socialist state itself. Moreover, the Constitution does not provide constitutional support for the right to freedom of thought. From this, it can be concluded that the state, while giving citizens freedom of speech, determines in advance the sanctions for the expression of thoughts that run counter to the state ideology.
Freedom of Speech in Italy
In Italy, there are a large number of media outlets representing different points of view on any issues of importance to society. Freedom of speech and press is constitutionally guaranteed and is actually practiced. However, the problems of ensuring real freedom of the media are acute in Italian society. In the summer of 2004, parliament discussed the abolition of imprisonment for libel. At the same time, Italian politicians quite often file lawsuits against journalists. Most of the media in Italy are private, but at the same time, they are associated with political parties or are part of large media holdings with partly controlled editorial policy. From time to time, journalists hold protest actions against attempts to influence the editorial policy of their publications. For example, in December 2004, journalists from Corriere della Sera protested on this issue. All in all, it is safe to say that in Italy, freedom of speech is often violated by the government or other political figures.
Freedom of Speech in African Countries
The existence of many languages on the African continent is a serious brake on the development of the press. In such conditions, the language of the former colonialists is de facto the language of interethnic communication. However, a large percentage of the population cannot use foreign languages, primarily due to their illiteracy. The involvement of various segments of the population in the information process is associated with an increase in the cultural level of the population. Ndereyimana adds that “liberal education should be promoted in Africa to make African societies more intellectual and more open to the world changes” (157). Thus, the democratization of information processes in Africa is associated with the elimination of illiteracy among the population.
There is a negative impact on the state of freedom of speech from government control, as well as due to the economic interests of media owners. For example, Namwase states that “the Rwandan government has faced considerable criticism for its excessive restrictions on and violation of the freedom of speech and expression of its citizens” (487). In East African countries such as Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania, constitutions guarantee freedom of expression, but the executive branch seeks to restrict criticism from journalists, citing possible socio-political instability that threatens state sovereignty. The Defamation Act, the Anti-State Agitation Act, and the State Security Act restrict freedom of expression established by the Mass Media Act.
It is clear that, despite the rapid processes of globalization and democratization that had occurred in the world in the last decade, the issue of freedom of speech is still acute even for well-developed countries. Whereas the freedom to express oneself is a basic human right, it still has limitations to it, and sometimes, it can be violated by the state severely. People should have the ability to express their opinions and points of view freely, thus looking for allies and supporters in the issue of interest to them. Due to the freedom of speech, the range of ideas can expand in various spheres of society’s life, which contributes to the comprehensive development of each person.
Namwase, Sylvie. “Inclusive dialogue, freedom of speech in Rwanda and the milestone decision of the African court in the matter of Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza v Republic of Rwanda.” 2 African Human Rights Yearbook, 2018, pp. 487–508.
Ndereyimana, Leonidas. “The History of Academic Freedom in Africa: Issues, Challenges and Perspectives.” Advances in Literary Study, vol. 09, no. 03, 2021, pp. 154–158, Web.
Reporters without borders. “2020 World press freedom index: Reporters without borders.” RSF, 2021, Web.
Zhang, Juxi, and Wenjuan Wang. “On the freedom and control of the press in China.” African and Asian Studies, vol. 18, no. 4, 2019, pp. 431–455., Web.