Freedom of Expression vs Right to have Correct Information

Shaista Tabassum 

Professor of international Relations 

Dean faculty of Arts and Social Sciences 

University of Karachi, Pakistan

Freedom of expression is a fundamental human right as given by Art 19 of the UDHR. The basic gain of this freedom is to increase knowledge and create understanding by dialogue on any issue among the people in any society. For any democratic culture the freedom of expression is the essential and primary stepping stone for democratic values to grow. 

In Pakistan, public faced suspension of social media when the government in the end of December2023 has gradually limited the use of social media platforms. Initially by limited access and later on slowing down the X (formerly Twitter) Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube. Needless to mention that Pakistan is among the top most subscriber of Facebook in the World. It was reported that due to the underwater cable faults the access to internet was slowed down, however, later on the blocking was unofficially accepted on grounds that  it was due to the presence of blasphemous content or religious immorality on the social media [atforms. The blocking was primarily caused due to reports of the misuses of social media against the government, judiciary and the military establishment. The material used by the political opponents to spread disinformation based on propaganda and twisted facts using AI technology, thus creating chaos, anti-state and anti-military establishment propaganda. In societies like Pakistan where the literacy rate is below 60% there are high chances of public being easily influenced by the disinformation. Growing concerns were expressed by the religious community on the available online content and literature as misinterpretation of Islamic laws and practices equally challenging the very fabric of the society. Pakistani society is a conservative internally and is extremely sensitive on religious sectarian lines. The material on sensitive issues linked to blasphemy and pornographic material is popular and has wide market especially among the illiterate and rural young people. 

The freedom of expression is the basic human right of an individual, if it is denied, restrained or limited he or she cannot be consider as free. Every individual has complete freedom of thinking expression and writing. Any restriction is the violation of the principles of international Human rights laws.  The debate on freedom of expression becomes more complex when the use of such rights violates or caused damage to the rights of others. Thus it is agreed by international conventions that the freedom of expression is not an unrestricted right it must be balanced by the duties or responsibilities abide by the state the media and the individuals alike.  The 1950 European convention on HR very clearly agreed that this right may be limited. The primary reason being the protection of other’s rights. Article 10 of the convention is the crux of this debate, which says’

‘’everyone has the right to freedom of expression” but that this freedom may by subject to restrictions for a variety of reasons, including to protect the rights of others: The exercise of these freedoms, since it carries with it duties and responsibilities, may be subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society, in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, for the protection of the reputation or rights of others, for preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, or for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary.

This leads to yet to an extended discussion on the concept of Human rights. At the tip of the ice burg, every individual has the right to have knowledge and information but which is authentic, correct and genuine knowledge based on truth and facts not fictions or disinformation. Plato believed that knowledge is achievable but for him true knowledge must be trustworthy and also of the real. Any state of mind which cannot defend this claims cannot be the true knowledge.

While looking it from this angle it appears that the laws introduced by any government in such situation where the flood of information/disinformation is influencing the minds of the people the freedom of expression and the right of genuine information coincide in the state policy. The government as the custodian of the people security in every respect preferred that the public must be given right information. Now it is up to the masses to decide which right they prefer to have. Correct information or freedom of expression.

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