Freedom of Speech: Definition and Meaning

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and international human rights law both recognise freedom of expression as a fundamental human right. Free speech is protected by constitutional legislation in several nations. In political debate, terms like "free speech," "freedom of speech," and "freedom of expression" are frequently used interchangeably. In a legal sense, however, freedom of expression includes any action of obtaining, receiving, and disseminating information or ideas, regardless of the medium used.

According to Article 19 of the UDHR, "everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference" and "everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression, including the freedom to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas of all kinds without regard to frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other medium of his choice." Later amendments to Article 19 in the ICCPR states that these rights come with "special duties and responsibilities" and that they may "therefore be subject to certain restrictions" when necessary for the protection of national security, of public order, or of public health or morals."

What Exactly Freedom of Speech and Expression Defines?

The right to free expression is typically regarded negatively. This means that no one is legally required to assist any speakers in publishing their views, and no one is required to listen to, agree with, or acknowledge the speaker or the speaker's views. It also means that the government is legally obligated to take no action against the speaker based on the speaker's views.

Freedom of Information: An Extension of Freedom of Speech

When using the Internet as a platform for expression, freedom of information is an extension of freedom of speech. In the context of the Internet and information technology, the right to privacy may also be referred to as the freedom of information. The right to privacy is a recognised human right, much like the right to free speech, and the freedom of information extends this right. Information technology censorship, or the freedom to access Web content without censorship or limitations, is another aspect of freedom of information.

Significance of Freedom of Speech and Expression

Allowing all citizens to engage in the political and social activities of the nation is a fundamental component of a functional democracy. In a strong democracy, there is plenty of room for free speech, opinion, and expression in all of its forms (verbal, written, broadcast, etc.).

The right to free speech is protected not only by the Indian Constitution but also by numerous international treaties and declarations, including the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was adopted on December 10, 1948.

  • This is important because democracy works well only if the people have the right to express their opinions about the government and criticise it if needed.

  • The voice of the people must be heard, and their grievances must be satisfied.

  • Freedom of the press is also an important factor in freedom of speech and expression.

  • Liberal democracies, especially in the West, have a very wide interpretation of freedom of speech and expression. There are numerous avenues for people to freely express their dissatisfaction.

  • However, most countries (including liberal democracies) have some sort of censorship in place, most of which is related to defamation, hate speech, etc.

  • The idea behind censorship is generally to prevent law and order issues in the country.

Limitations on Freedom of Speech

There are limits to speech freedom. Article 19(2) of the Indian Constitution imposes certain reasonable restrictions on the right to freedom of speech and expression. Such constraints are justified by the following considerations:

  • Security

  • Sovereignty and integrity of the country

  • Friendly relations with foreign countries

  • Public order

  • Decency or morality

  • Hate speech

  • Defamation

  • Contempt of court

The right to free speech is guaranteed by the Constitution, but it must be exercised responsibly and with caution.


Other rights are inextricably linked to freedom of speech and expression. When it clashes with other rights, it could be restricted (see limitations on freedom of speech). The right to freedom of expression is linked to the right to a fair trial and legal process, which may restrict access to information or dictate the ways in which that right can be used during legal processes. As a general rule, the right to privacy, as well as the honour and reputation of others, cannot be restricted by the freedom of expression. However, when criticising famous people is involved, more leeway is granted.

The media, which performs a special role as the bearer of the general right to freedom of speech for all, places a specific emphasis on the right to freedom of expression. Freedom of the press does not, however, automatically guarantee freedom of speech. The circumstances under which freedom of the press may limit freedom of expression have been detailed by Judith Lichtenberg. For instance, if those in charge of the various media of publishing censor information or muzzle the variety of voices that come with free expression, the classic quote "Freedom of the press is guaranteed exclusively to those who possess one" perfectly captures this restriction. According to Lichtenberg, the maxim "no money, no voice" effectively sums up how property rights, including freedom of the press, work.


Q1. What is the definition of free speech?

Ans. The right to express one's thoughts and beliefs without hindrance or reprisal from the government is known as freedom of speech. The phrase "speech" refers to expression that goes well beyond just words and also includes things like what someone wears, reads, performs, protests, and more.

Q2. Why is the right to free speech crucial?

Ans. Protecting freedom of speech is crucial if we want to live in a society where everyone is treated fairly and equally, since it is one of the fundamental tenets of the democratic process. Democracy is weakened if this isn't done.

Q3. Where is it prohibited to speak freely?

Ans. Amnesty International asserts that North Korea and China both severely restrict people's ability to express themselves.

Q4. Is there actually freedom of speech?

Ans. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and international human rights law both recognise freedom of expression as a fundamental human right. Free speech is protected by constitutional legislation in several nations.

Updated on: 30-Jan-2023


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