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Opinions of Thursday, 4 July 2013

Columnist: Akwah, Nana

Freedom of Speech - should it have limits?

Do you think freedom of speech should have its limits or boundaries? We are lucky enough to live in a democracy and have a principle right to freedom of speech. However, should we allow hateful partisan speech e.g. ethnocentric banters, political slurs and things that blatantly set out to offend others?

Did you know that if someone makes a direct threat to hunt you down and kill you, it is not illegal- it is considered Free Speech. However, the only time it is illegal is if they actually attempt it- by then I would think it would be a little bit too late. Furthermore, do you think threatening to kill somebody should be covered under Freedom of Speech?

In the past few days I have kept brooding and asking myself, "What is freedom or better still freedom of speech?”

My considered opinion is that, it is the right to do, say or speak whatever we feel or think without being judged unfairly as long as we don't take someone else's rights away from them in the process.

From such an explanation, I am free to have and do what I want in my own yard, if it is my own property, but if I choose to burn rubbish and leaves on a day which is windy and the sparks fly onto my neighbor's roof, catches fire and burn his place to the ground, in such instance I took his freedom to have a good safe home away from him and I think I should be punished by the law for not using reasonableness in checking out in the first place, before using my freedom to burn the trash.

I am free to have a dog on the contrary, if I allow it to go onto my neighbor's yard and dig holes or defecate on their land, then I also took my neighbor's right to have a nice lawn away from him and I have broken the law. Also if I own a pet, I am free to love it and nurture it and provide for it whatever I wish for it, but if I neglect it or beat it or don't water and feed it properly, clearly I have taken the pet's freedom away of living on this earth free of abuse and have also broken the law.

In the same vein, I can as well have as many kids as I want, however, if I neglect them and abuse them, then I have infringed on their rights as humans to be treated with respect and kindness and be taken care of and I have also broken the law.

Any freedom whether it is freedom of speech, press, religion, civil rights, etc., ceases to be 'free' if it infringes upon other's rights to also be free and uninhibited as well. If you threaten someone's life, then you have infringed upon their rights to walk down a street without fear and also their rights to remain alive.

Freedom of speech does not grant one the permission to slander or libel. Therefore, there is already some limitation to the principle. Offence is one thing, but incitement to hatred, discrimination and persecution must, surely, be indefensible and should be treated as such.

Crime, no matter its kind or who does it, is an act always taking the rights of another away from them. Any possibility of a crime that would take the rights of another away from them, particularly the right to live, should be reported to the local authorities.

How would you feel if you don't report it and that person that did the threatening actually does the action and takes the other person's right to live away from them?

Much as we advocate for freedom of speech, and that, there shouldn't be limits, nevertheless there should be consequences for what is said.

All threats should be taken seriously and dealt with. On the other hand, just imagine all the whackos that authorities would have to chase down relating to bad speeches and contempt. Unfortunately in some instances when some of these whackos are ignored it ends tragically. Check the law -- in almost all Countries an attempt to do harm to someone constitutes assault and is illegal.

The ramifications of inflammatory speeches and gestures to incite must not be taken lightly. I think that if a person feels that it is an actual threat, and not just someone venting, they have the right to contact the police. But in our circumstance, the Police have compromised their integrity.

I do think the person who made the threat should be thrown in jail, to deter others and prevent anarchy irrespective of whose eyes is gored.

The Supreme Court should not listen to any dovish advice only to be confronted with confrontation or civil war. Their present stance and posture will surely serves as a catalyst in preventing something untoward happening.

There is evidence that a prior problem of such magnitude had existed between partisan politicians in other countries, not forgetting that there were limits, hate speech, heckling, libel, enticing a riot, and verbal assault on another.

Actually, the Freedom of Speech clause theory does not protect threats or anything that is said in an attempt to incite any form of riots or fighting or civil disobedience.

Those advocating for restraining by the Court must understand that, Freedom of speech is not a license to talk anything and in any manner.

In a civilized society, it should be restrained so that others can also enjoy their freedom. In view of that, any speech that has the tendency to disturbs public peace, law and order, communal harmony and national security should be curtailed and disallowed.

Those asking the Supreme Court to restrain itself are not helping. What sparked off vicious civil wars was overlooked, and it eventually blossomed. The price thereafter becomes an albatross for it to be taken off the neck.

Freedom of Speech and Freedom to Criticize should have limit. Sometimes people and in particular, the big fishes, (politicians) go beyond the limit and make everyone complain for they even go to the extent of even abusing their seniors e.g.; presidents. This causes embarrassment, lack of respect and also influences easy goers to be indiscipline.

A country may have a very high degree of crime due to this, since the public finds their easy ways in behaving the way they want. If a certain degree of law is established for speech things will be better and will curtail indecency in public discourse.

As people, do we really assess situations before making statements and utterances? Are we abusing our freedom of speech? I know as Ghanaians we are proud that we can unashamedly state our opinions in public... but does it occur to people that, just because you have an opinion and are allowed to voice it, doesn't mean other people actually want to hear it?

We certainly and utterly are abusing this so-called freedom with ghastly gusto that ought to be gnashed out. There should be a social convention which can rein in against people, saying things that displease others or might potentially inflame or incite others. The world would be a much quieter place if we all operate within the confines of accepted norms.

We have been abusing our freedom of speech for years. Though I am happy that we have the ability to voice our opinions, but do think that, unless it is relevant to the discussion, why even bother opening your mouth?

I find it really absurd understanding interest groups that think that just because we have free speech means they can attack people for having a differing opinion.

I would have said that there should be no limit to even this broader concept of freedom of speech at least as far as a moral principle goes. But wait a minute, that is to say when I threaten you with beating the crap out of you in order to shut you up and I mean it, I have done something that should not 'morally' be allowed to be done.

Obviously nothing is stopping me. I have free will of course. But society should frown heavily upon that kind of a thing. We should support and encourage absolute freedom to say whatever we want provided we aren't stepping on the toes of someone else's ability to say whatever they want.

The Supreme Court Order of 24th June, 2013, to me, is not a way to “gag citizens”. It is a way check the unbridle attacks and comments been thrown in the public domain that has the tendency to ignite civil strife.

Our freedom ends where others beginning. Just as you have a freedom as an ordinary citizen, so also public figures like judges, pastors, police, soldiers, teachers, senior citizens and other citizenry have rights.

Do not abuse others “Rights” in the name of Freedom of Expression. We all have a role to be civil and respectful citizens.