The main purpose of this Module is to explain the freedom of expression and other related rights and their functions.
The secondary aim is to guide trainers who want to use the content of this Module to train their trainees.
With these aims, freedom of information along with guidelines about how to teach the subject are presented.
Trainees who successfully complete this Module will be able to:
Additionally, trainers who successfully complete this Module, will be able to demonstrate an understanding of how to teach the freedom of information.
This Module consists of the following parts:
Main objectives of the Module, description of the content and the learning outcomes are explained in the Module Description part. Guidelines for Trainees includes instructions and suggestions for trainees. Guidelines for Trainers leads trainers through different phases of the training and provides tips which could be useful while teaching the subject. Content includes all study materials and the content related exercises. Quiz includes true/false questions for trainees to test their progress. Resources have two components: references and recommended sources for further reading and study. References is the list of sources cited in the content part. Recommended resources consist of a list of supplemental sources and videos which are highly recommended to read and watch for learning more on the topic.
Trainees are expected to read the text and watch recommended videos. They can consult suggested resources for further information. After completing the study of the content trainees are strongly suggested to take the quiz to evaluate their progress. They can revise the study material if needed.
Guidelines for trainers include suggestions and tips for trainers about how to use the content of this Module to train people on the subject.
Preparing a presentation (PowerPoint/Prezi/Canva) which is enriched with visual materials (images and video clips) and clear solid examples is strongly suggested. It is also suggested to adapt the examples and exercises in this Module to issues which are more familiar to the actual target group. Choosing local examples (country specific) regarding the current or well known issues help to illustrate a point more clearly. It also helps to draw the attention of trainees. The more familiar and popular the examples are, the better the message will be communicated.
A short quiz (3 to 5 questions) in Kahoot or questions with Mentimeter can be used at the beginning for engaging participants in the topic. It can be used as a motivation tool as well as a tool to check trainees’ existing knowledge about the subject. Some examples for questions could be: What is freedom of expression? What is freedom of information? Why are these rights important?
Various teaching methods can be used in combination during the training. Such as:
An effective way of involving participants and setting common expectations about what they will learn is to ask a few preliminary questions on the subject. This can be done through group work by asking trainees to discuss and collect ideas, but also individually by asking each participant to write their ideas on sticky notes. The activity can be conducted as follows:
The objective of the lesson should be made clear (which is to explain the freedom of expression and other related rights and their functions). Following the warming-up questions it will be easier to clarify the objectives.
While presenting the content make sure to interact with the trainees and encourage them for active participation.
Make a short summary of the lesson and ask a couple of questions which help underlying the most important messages you would like to give.
Following question can help:
When concluding, make sure that trainees understand that the freedoms are basic human rights but they should have some boundaries not to harm other people.
Freedom of expression, which is an important fundamental right in itself, is also critical for defending and supporting other freedoms and rights such as freedom of thought and information. People utilise this right in daily life through the exchange of ideas, opinions and information. For this reason, it is very important for those who want to realise freedom of expression to understand the means and structures of communication and to organise environments that facilitate such exchange (Panday, n.d.).
Freedom of thought is the most important freedom according to Montesquieu, one of the democratic theorists. The qualities that make people human, such as creativity and virtuousness, only function and develop in a free environment. In environments where ideas can be freely expressed, democratic institutions continue to exist and have the opportunity to develop. A free person is a person who can think freely and express his/her opinions freely (Çelik & Tonta, 1996, p.1).
Freedom of expression is a principle right in modern societies and has a special importance for the well-functioning constitutional democracies. This freedom distinguishes open societies from closed ones, and liberals from authoritarian ones. However, the concept of freedom of expression includes much more than just the freedom to express one's opinion. It is generally accepted that freedom of thought, freedom of information and freedom of speech may be analysed under an umbrella “expression” standard (Hugelier, 2011, p. 61-62; Legal Information Institute, n.d.).
Among the sources first mentioned about the basic human rights such as freedom of expression, speech and information in history, it is seen that the following came to the fore:
Today, freedom of expression is a fundamental human right which has been recognised in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) by the United Nations in 1948. The Declaration was affirmed by the representatives of different countries of the United Nations General Assembly, which have different legal and cultural backgrounds from all over the world. The Declaration established for the first time fundamental human rights that must be universally protected and has been translated into more than 500 languages (United Nations, n.d.).
In Article 19 of UDHR this right mentioned as follows (United Nations, 1948):
“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.”
Accordingly, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly and entered into force in 1976, where the freedom of speech act (Article 19) was updated as follows (UN General Assembly, 1966):
Freedom of expression is also recognised as a human right in Article 10 of European
Convention on Human Rights in 1952. The article has the following statement (Council of Europe, 1952):
“Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers. This article shall not prevent States from requiring the licensing of broadcasting, television or cinema enterprises.”
The “freedom” stated in these articles includes not only the right of a person to express his/her opinion (in other words “freedom of speech”), but also the right to receive and transmit information and ideas. On the other hand, these articles place an emphasis on ideas rather than information (Hugelier, 2011, p. 64).
There are some arguments (especially in terms of different political and philosophical perspectives) on what the limits of freedom covered under "freedom of expression" should be. According to some opinions, any expression should be free as long as it does not turn into a physical act, while according to others, expressions that may be an element of psychological pressure (such as hate speech, pornography) should be considered outside the boundaries of the concept of freedom (van Mill, 2021). The Article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights states these restrictions as follows (Council of Europe, 1952):
“The exercise of these freedoms, since it carries with it duties and responsibilities, may be subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society, in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, for the protection of the reputation or rights of others, for preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, or for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary.”
Hearing other people's opinions can help learning if they are right, and revealing the truth more clearly if they are wrong. In other words, an individual who is fed with different thoughts better develops his/her own mindset (Sorabji, 2021, p. 64-65). The media has a fundamental role as a "public watchdog" since their main duty is to form a basis to express opinions, ideas and to give and receive information as long as it is in the public interest. Freedom of information, as well as freedom of expression, is of vital importance for the existence of a free press. Therefore, there is an unquestionable link between freedom of expression and freedom of information (Hugelier, 2011, p.63).
A free person is a person who can think and express his/her opinions freely. The prerequisite for this is the right to access accurate, undistorted information, which is called freedom of information. It is seen that in countries where this right is insufficient, public opinion is not formed properly, and non-democratic regimes use mass media to impose untrue situations on their own people. This is why the basic premise of the concept of freedom of thought in a democracy is the right of citizens to access information (Çelik & Tonta, 1996, p.1).
“Seeking information is essential for finding the truth, which is in turn essential for collective decision-making in a democratic society.”
(Hugelier, 2011, p. 64)
Today's contemporary societies use their freedom of information widely through the media. Therefore, it is in the public interest to support the freedom of the press and being able to learn and disseminate all kinds of news through mass media has been recognized as a right with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the European Convention on Human Rights and the Helsinki Final Act, regardless of country borders (Çelik & Tonta, 1996, p.1). The international organisation of Reporters Without Borders (RSF), which cares about the equal enjoyment of these rights by humanity, monitors the conditions of journalists around the world for this purpose and ranks countries annually according to their degree of media freedom (Reporters Without Borders, 2021).
All different voices and opinions deserve to be heard fairly, not only in the name of freedom of speech and expression, but also to give people access to a variety of information (Pickard, 2020). In the digital age, communication has evolved from personal emails or static web browsing to a more interactive, sharing-oriented global phenomenon that is rapidly reaching large audiences and has an extremely wide scope. This radical change, especially created by social media, has also led to the evolution of the internet. The proliferation of digital technologies has not only encouraged access to unlimited information, but also created a diverse ecosystem of voice, image, text and code, accessible from various types of media and using different types of technologies (Panday, n.d.).
As a result of this evolution, the amount of information that can be accessed has increased, some possible barriers to access information (such as time and space limitations) have disappeared, and this has made communication more democratic. In this way, internet users have become able to take on the role of writer, publisher or broadcaster on the internet, bypassing the gatekeepers in the traditional media ecosystem, thus opening up unlimited possibilities for producing, sharing and exchanging all kinds of content. From this point of view, the internet has emerged as a globally accessible communication tool, free from traditional restrictions on freedom of speech and expression. However, the internet has started to become more and more controversial, as the number of online content increased, the reliability of this content became questionable and people were trapped in similar voices by the effect of algorithms. As a result, the debates challenging the free flow of information and freedom of expression have intensified today. In other words, there are unintended consequences where different forms of power and control are discussed, including the regulation of content shared on the Internet (Panday, n.d.).
The emergence of the Internet had a groundbreaking effect on the expression of ideas and changed some fundamental aspects, which will be summarised below (Zeno-Zencovich, 2008, p. 100-112):
Although the Internet has prepared a ground for freedom and democracy that humanity has not encountered before, the limits of freedoms here are also a matter of debate. In this environment, where people are publishers, writers, information producers and spreaders without intermediaries, harmful, false or deliberately manipulative or biassed information can also be disseminated. This may be a big problem, for example if personal profiles based on free speech are used to target voters. It is possible to list some of the problematic information spread by the Internet, especially by social media (Sorabji, 2021, p. 112-133):
As mentioned in previous titles, the essence of freedom of expression or speech is to reveal the truth and to learn from others. But in such a social media environment where selling data or creating personal profiles from that data is more valuable than truth, these basic human rights are not really applicable (Sorabji, 2021, p. 133).
On the other hand, not all collection of personal data is illegitimate. For example, a major online e-commerce company may offer new products by looking at one's personal data and preferences. Here, the red line may be selling the data to other companies or, as mentioned in previous titles, using this data to cause harm to people (Sorabji, 2021, p. 122).
To share information or to create personal profiles on the internet is not necessarily a harmful action. The important thing here is to be aware of possible manipulations and to act responsibly when using the internet, just like when living in society in daily life, knowing that we do not have unlimited freedom (Sorabji, 2021, p. 172). Education programs such as media or news literacy are some of the solid solutions on raising such an awareness in the public.
Council of Europe. (1952). The European Convention on Human Rights. Strasbourg: Directorate of Information. Retrieved from https://www.echr.coe.int/documents/convention_eng.pdf.
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