Balancing the Right to Free Speech against Other Protected Rights

Dear Editor:

Please consider this letter.

Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare says the use of the biggest social networking site in the world must be regulated in Solomon Islands.  He is right in my view.

The Prime Minister is quoted to have told Parliament. “People have been defamed, the users who use false names, and people’s reputation that have been built up over the years have been torn down in a matter of minutes.”

I suffered such defamation in early 1999 when two foreign journalists wrote grossly defamatory stories that damaged my reputation and worked to hinder, if not prevent reconciliation between then in civil conflict over land rights and settlement…

“Government must act to ensure they are protected and not discriminated against.” The PM has said.

All countries appear to expressly recognize the right to freedom of speech as a constitutional or fundamental right. Freedom of speech, however, is not absolute; all of the countries apply limitations to it at varied levels

 Limitations on the right of expression exist in many countries and are recognized under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights. Such limitations are designed to secure a variety of objectives that may include the protection of national security, territorial integrity, public safety, health, morals, the integrity of public service, a person’s dignity and good name, religious feelings, etc. Protection of these and additional objectives are provided under the countries’ constitutional provisions as well as under statutory and case law, as relevant

Recognizing the importance of protecting freedom of speech, the European Convention on Human Rights provides that any limitation of freedom of expression must be prescribed by law, “necessary in a democratic society,” and aimed at certain enumerated objectives, one of which could be the prevention of disorder or crime. A determination as to whether a restriction on freedom of expression is necessary “requires the existence of a pressing social need, and . . . the restrictions should be no more than is proportionate.” Feelings or even outrage, in the absence of intimidation, however, was held by the European Court of Human Rights as insufficient for limiting freedom of expression: “To hold otherwise would mean that freedom of speech and opinion is subjected to the heckler’s veto.” 

A similar approach is expressed by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which recognizes that freedom of expression may only be restricted as provided by law and to the extent necessary: “(a) For respect of the rights or reputations of others; (b) For the protection of national security or of public order… or of public health or morals

Yours Sincerely

Frank Short