Freedom of Expression a Comparative Analysi

Topics: Human rights, Freedom of speech, Universal Declaration of Human Rights Pages: 26 (8916 words) Published: December 26, 2010
232 Ecquid Novi ISSN 0256-0054 2002 23(2):232-253

Ecquid Novi

Mandla Seleoane

Freedom of expression: a comparative analysis
This article focuses on a comparative analysis on freedom of expression between South Africa, Malawi, Zambia, Algeria, China, Japan, Switzerland, Germany, Russia, Canada and the USA. It discusses the meaning of the right to free expression and the intersection between freedom of expression and other fundamental rights. It also explores the possibility to limit the parameters of freedom of expression and argues that such possibility is already foregrounded in the constitution. The emerging jurisprudence on freedom of expression in South Africa does not support the thesis that there is a need for a South African approach to freedom of expression. Hierdie artikel vergelyk vryheid van spraak in Suid-Afrika, Malawi, Zambië, Algerië, China, Japan, Switserland, Duitsland, Rusland, Kanada en die VSA. Die betekenis van vryheid van spraak en die interaksie tussen vryheid van spraak en ander fundamentele regte kom aan die orde. Dit ondersoek ook die moontlikheid om vryheid van spraak in te perk, en gaan van die standpunt uit dat hierdie moontlikheid reeds in die Grondwet gestel word. Die ontluikende tendens in Suid-Afrika ondersteun egter nie die aanname dat daar ‘n behoefte is aan ‘n Suid-Afrikaanse benadering tot vryheid van spraak nie. Key words: balancing rights, constitution, freedom of expression, jurisprudence, limitation, self-regulation.


Mandla Seleoane [] is a research specialist with the Human Sciences Research Council (Governance and Democracy), Private Bag x41 Pretoria, Tel. +27-12 3022325, Fax +27-12 3022216. This article is based on a presentation made at a South African National Editors’ Forum (Sanef), the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) and the African Chapter of the African Renaissance (AR) conference.

Seleoane: Freedom of expression


Defining freedom of expression
The nature of the problem Freedom of expression is to a large extent a politico-legal construct. Therefore it would be advisable to start the inquiry into what it is from the law, which can be seen as a distillation of political choices by those who have the power to make law (Pashukanis, 1978; Tigar & Levy, 1977). A cursory glance at constitutional texts would reveal, however, that we could not draw much assistance from them by way of defining freedom of expression. What constitutions tend to do is merely to proclaim the right to freedom of expression and then, if we are lucky, indicate what it includes. To proclaim a right is not the same thing as defining it. Nor is an indication of what the right includes or excludes useful if what we want to know is what the right is. What is included and excluded from a right must be distinguished from what the right is.1 It may be argued plausibly that, in order to arrive at what is included or excluded, one has to have a definition of the right as a precondition. Otherwise the correctness in including certain things and excluding others is open to challenge. But even if it turns out to be correct, the correctness might well be fortuitous. I suggest that in the absence of a definition of freedom of expression in the constitution, it remains now to approach such definition by way of inference. An attempt to define freedom of expression Section 16(1) of the South African constitution provides that everyone has the right to freedom of expression. And then it indicates that included in that right is freedom of the press and other media; freedom to receive or impart information or ideas; freedom of artistic creativity; and academic freedom and freedom of scientific research. What I suggest, now, is that one must infer a definition of freedom of expression from this provision. The definition must necessarily be influenced by the social condition antecedent to the proclamation of the right. Johann van der Westhuizen writes...

References: Bracken, H.M. 1994. Freedom of Speech: Words are not Deeds. Praeger. Brown v Louisiana 383 U.S. 131 (1966). Cobbah, J.A.M. 1987. African Values and the Human Rights Debate: an African Perspective. Human Rights Quarterly, 9(3). Cox v State of New Hampshire, 312 U.S. 569 (1941). Derham, D.P., ed. 1964. A Textbook of Jurisprudence. Oxford University Press. Flew, A. 1979. A Dictionary of Philosophy. Pan Books. Greenawalt, K. 1995. Fighting Words: Individuals, Communities, and Liberties of Speech. Princeton University Press. Hague v Committee for Industrial Organization 307 U.S. 469 (1939). Hague v Committee for Industrial Organization 307 U.S. 469 (1939). Marx, K. 1975. On the Jewish Question. Collected Works, 3, International Publishers. Motala, Z. 1996. The Constitutional Court’s approach to international law and its method of interpretation in the ‘Amnesty decision’: Intellectual honesty or political expediency? South African Yearbook of International Law, 21. Pashukanis, E.B. 1978. Law and Marxism. Ink Links. Tigar, M.E. & Levy, M.R. 1977. The Law and the Rise of Capitalism, Monthly Review Press. United States v Cruikshank 92 U.S. 542 (1876). Urmson, J.O., ed. 1975. The Concise Encyclopedia of Western Philosophy and Philosophers, Hutchinson Group. Van der Westhuizen J. 1994. ‘Freedom of Expression’. In: Van Wyk, D., et al. 1994, Rights and Constitutionalism: the New South African Legal Order, Juta.
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