Theoretical Foundations

Theoretical Foundations

Drawing on the work of thinkers from various political, cultural and religious traditions, the Module provides resources that explore why freedom of expression and information matters. It distinguishes between the main theories underpinning the protection of free speech and the rejection of censorship, and links these philosophical arguments to more recent international political developments.

8 items found, showing 11 - 8
Author: IACtHR
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“[T]he Government of Costa Rica […] submitted to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights […] an advisory opinion request relating to the interpretation of Articles 13 [Freedom of thought and expression] and 29 [Restrictions Regarding Interpretation] of the American Convention on Human Rights […] as they affect the compulsory membership in an association prescribed by law for the practice of journalism […]. The request also sought the Court's interpretation relating to the compatibility of Law No. 4420 of September 22, 1969, Organic Law of the Colegio de Periodistas (Association of Journalists) of Costa Rica […], with the provisions of the aforementioned articles.”

IACtHR, Compulsory Membership in an Association Prescribed by Law for the Practice of Journalism. Advisory Opinion OC-5/85. Series A, No. 5. 13 November 1985

Author: IACmHR
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In October 2000, following extensive debates among different civil society organizations, and in support of the Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights approved the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression.  The Declaration constitutes a basic document for interpreting Article 13 of the American Convention on Human Rights.

OAS, IACmHR. Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression. 108th regular period of sessions. 2-20 October 2000

Author: Columbia Global Freedom of Expression, Agnès Callamard
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In this segment of the MOOC 'Freedom of Expression in the Age of Globalization' created by Columbia Global Freedom of Expression, Agnès Callamard explores why freedom of expression and information matters, and the values and principles that are established through free speech. Specifically this video explores the relation of freedom of expression with Democracy and Development

Author: Amartya Sen
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Author: Jack M. Balkin
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“In this essay, Professor Balkin argues that digital technologies alter the social conditions of speech and therefore should change the focus of free speech theory, from a Meiklejohnian or republican concern with protecting democratic process and democratic deliberation, to a larger concern with protecting and promoting a democratic culture. A democratic culture is a culture in which individuals have a fair opportunity to participate in the forms of meaning-making that constitute them as individuals. Democratic culture is about individual liberty as well as collective self-governance; it concerns each individual’s ability to participate in the production and distribution of culture. Balkin argues that Meiklejohn and his followers were influenced by the social conditions of speech produced by the rise of mass media in the twentieth century, in which only a relative few could broadcast to large numbers of people. Republican or progressivist theories of free speech also tend to downplay the importance of nonpolitical expression, popular culture, and individual liberty. The limitations of this approach have become increasingly apparent in the age of the Internet. By changing the social conditions of speech, digital technologies lead to new social conflicts over the ownership and control of informational capital. The free speech principle is the battleground over many of these conflicts. For example, media companies have interpreted the free speech principle broadly to combat regulation of digital networks and narrowly in order to protect and extend their intellectual property rights. The digital age greatly expands the possibilities for individual participation in the growth and spread of culture, and thus greatly expands the possibilities for the realization of a truly democratic culture. But the same technologies also produce new methods of control that can limit democratic cultural participation. Therefore, free speech values – interactivity, mass participation, and the ability to modify and transform culture – must be protected through technological design and through administrative and legislative regulation of technology, as well as through the more traditional method of judicial creation and recognition of constitutional rights. Increasingly, freedom of speech will depend on the design of the technological infrastructure that supports the system of free expression and secures widespread democratic participation. Institutional limitations of courts will prevent them from reaching the most important questions about how that infrastructure is designed and implemented. Safeguarding freedom of speech will thus increasingly fall to legislatures, administrative agencies, and technologists.”

Balkin, Jack. “Digital Speech and Democratic Culture: A Theory of Freedom of Expression for the Information Society”. New York University Law Review 79, no. 1 (2004).

Author: Kevin W. Saunders
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"Free Expression and Democracy takes on the assumption that limits on free expression will lead to authoritarianism or at least a weakening of democracy. That hypothesis is tested by an examination of issues involving expression and their treatment in countries included on The Economist's list of fully functioning democracies. Generally speaking, other countries allow prohibitions on hate speech, limits on third-party spending on elections, and the protection of children from media influences seen as harmful. Many ban Holocaust denial and the desecration of national symbols. Yet, these other countries all remain democratic, and most of those considered rank more highly than the United States on the democracy index. This book argues that while there may be other cultural values that call for more expansive protection of expression, that protection need not reach the level present in the United States in order to protect the democratic nature of a country."

Saunders, Kevin W. Free Expression and Democracy: A Comparative Analysis. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017. doi:10.1017/9781316771129.

Author: Toni M. Massaro and Helen Norton
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“Left unfettered, the 21st-century speech environment threatens to undermine critical pieces of the democratic project. Speech operates today in ways unimaginable not only to the First Amendment’s 18th--century writers but also to its 20th-century champions. Key among these changes is that speech is cheaper and more abundant than ever before, and can be exploited—by both government and powerful private actors alike—as a tool for controlling others’ speech and frustrating meaningful public discourse and democratic outcomes. The Court’s longstanding First Amendment doctrine rests on a model of how speech works that is no longer accurate. This invites us to reconsider our answers to key questions and to adjust doctrine and theory to account for these changes. Yet there is a more or less to these re-imagining efforts: they may seek to topple, or instead to tweak, current theory and doctrine. Either route requires that reformers revisit the foundational questions underlying the Free Speech Clause: What, whom and how does it protect—and from whom, from what, and why?”

Massaro, Toni M. and Norton, Helen. “Free Speech and Democracy: A Primer for Twenty-First Century Reformers.” UC Davis Law Review 54 (2021): 1631-1685.

Author: Dario Mazzola
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Free speech remains a crucial question at the heart of every democracy. In Western countries, citizens ranging from progressive fringes to “constitutional conservatives” defend it as frequently as staunchly. In this paper, I discuss the tensions and contradictions of some formulations of free speech. Among other, I draw on two authors converging in their critique from two very different perspectives: Alasdair MacIntyre and Stanley Fish. After having assessed the extreme conception of free speech and having shown its implausibility, freedom of speech is characterised as ideological in at least one definition of the word, that employed by legal realists. I claim that free speech is indeed an incomplete, context-sensitive right granted to someone on some occasions, often depending on extra-legal, historical, sociological, political and practical factors. This leaves the door open to interpretations of the right to free speech as ideological in other and more substantial ways, such as in the venues of Critical Legal Studies. I conclude by drawing implications applicable to our societies in their current conditions, with a special focus on the role of new media.”

Mazzola, Dario. “Free Speech and Ideology: Society, Politics, Law”. Javnost – The Public 27(4) (2020): 325-336.