Tag Archives: SafetyFirst?

Freedom of Expression Vs. National Security

Over the years, there have been several discussions about how much of an individual’s rights can be restricted to ensure the safety of the nation. Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of human rights state that “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” In several nations however, there are laws that allow the government to curtail an individual’s rights. But, is this just? Should the government have the power to curtail an individual’s basic human right?

During the 26/11 attacks on Mumbai, when a group of terrorists held several civilians hostage in the Taj Hotel, several news stations were reporting live from the scene, and were doing live broadcasts. They were also broadcasting videos of the militants. In this case, the broadcasts could have exposed the militants’ strategies to the terrorists, who held innocent civilians as hostages. This, thus, put civilian lives at risk and the TV stations were banned from broadcasting live from the scene. In such cases, the media houses should be sensible about the information they are broadcasting. They should have taken into consideration the fact that the terrorists could have access to a television, and not have jumped at this as an opportunity to improve their TRP rating. The government did the right thing by stopping the broadcast in this case, despite it curtailing the freedom of expression.

On the other hand however, there are cases like the Tiananmen Square protests on 1989. The protests were forcibly suppressed and the Communist Party of China has forbidden discussion of the event. Within a year of the protest, several newspapers were shut down and over 150 movies and books were banned. Several people born after 1990 are not even aware of this incident. Foreign journalists are frequently denied access to the Tiananmen Square during anniversaries. While the government takes these measures to prevent any future protests like the Tiananmen Square protests, and to prevent civil unrest, it curtails the freedom of expression of millions of people. Also, the reason for censoring this information is not well founded, because censoring all information related to the protests is not going to ensure that no other such protests take place. Neither will people start protesting once they read about this incident. Clearly, in this case, the Chinese Government either has more information about the event that could put the whole nation at risk, or have ulterior motives behind censoring the information. Maybe they just fear that this information will inspire others to protest against the corrupt officials and other issues with the Chinese government.

While it is important that the nation’s security is given more importance than an individuals’ rights, there will be corrupt officials who can take advantage of this and misuse it. But on the other hand, if the state does not have powers to curtail an individuals’ freedom of expression, the individual can also misuse it and put the entire nation at risk. Hence, the state should have the power to curtail the rights of an individual to protect the interests of the state. However, there should be methods to ensure that this is not misused by government officials. An independent committee, for example, can be set up to look into these issues.

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