Article 19: Why free media are important to development and democratization

Great speech in Burma (Myanmar) by Agnes Callamard of Article 19, a freedom of expression group. (Article 19 refers to that provision of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights that deals with freedom of expression.)

Role of freedom of expression in democratisation processes: an ARTICLE 19 presentation

Some key points:

Before focusing on the importance and role of a proper legal framework, we may need to reiterate a few things about why freedom of expression, freedom of the media matter.

Human rights are the foundation of human dignity, freedom, justice and peace. The 1948 Universal Declaration on Human Rights laid out equal rights for all people and three fundamental principles governing human rights: rights are universal, meaning that rights apply to everyone whoever or wherever that person is; inalienable, in that they precede state authority and are based on peoples’ humanity; and indivisible in that all rights are of equal importance.


Freedom of expression and freedom of information are crucial to democracy and the enjoyment of other rights. The importance of freedom of expression was particularly emphasised by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights which stated:

Freedom of expression is a cornerstone upon which the very existence of a democratic society rests. It is indispensable for the formation of public opinion. It is also a conditio sine qua non for the development of political parties, trade union, scientific and cultural societies and, in general, those who wish to influence the public. It represents, in short, the means that enable the community, when exercising its opinions, to be sufficiently informed. Consequently, it can be said that a society that is not well informed is not a society that is truly free.

Why rule of law is important in general

The rule of law is to a stable sustainable society what the skeleton is to the human body. Without a strong, stable, unbroken and nourished skeletal underpinning the human body falls, fails, simply cannot function in any reliable manner. With a sound skeletal framework in place, the human body can absorb the stresses of it movements and its ambitions: we can sit, stand, run, create, defend, protect, assert.

Rule of law and freedom of expression

So for the laws to play their role as far as freedom of expression and freedom of the Media are concerned, they must meet a set of international agreed standards. And in the best case scenario, they should also seek to meet existing best practices within the international community.

And why rule of law and freedom of expression are linked:

The right is freedom of expression, under international human rights law, may be restricted in order to protect a legitimate aim, amongst others, the rights of others, and public order, if it is done by law and if it is “necessary in a democratic society” to do so.

To be legitimate, a restriction to freedom of expression must meet a three part test:

First, it must be prescribed by law;

Second, it must pursue a legitimate aim, such as respect of the rights or reputations of others, protection of national security, public order, public health or morals; and

Third, the restriction should be necessary to secure the legitimate aim and meet the test of proportionality.


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Filed under Freedom of access, Freedom of Information, Press Freedom

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