Freedom of Speech in Europe


Though the laws regarding Freedom of speech in Europe vary of course vary between member states, they all must also adhere to the European Convention on Human Rights and the European Council. Specifically they must adhere to Article 10 of the convention which deals with this subject and dictates that everyone must have the right to self-expression. There are however of course the caveats however that restrictions exist in ‘accordance with law’ and that are ‘necessities in a democratic society’.

The right to expression includes the right to hold opinions and also to impart and receive information (though a note states that governments can still license their media companies). These freedoms however are subject to ‘formalities, conditions, restrictions and penalties’ that in the interest of ‘public safety, national security, the prevention of disorder, the protection of health/morals, the reputations of others, the protection of information disclosed in confidence, for remaining authority and for territorial integrity.

Of course however this is a vague outline that leaves lots of room for interpretation, and in some cases the emphasis has been found to be more heavily on these exceptions bringing the EU under fire. For instance it was a controversial decision to allow the British historian David Irving to be imprisoned for three years for Holocaust denial which is a crime in Germany. In other cases young Muslim’s have been denied the right to display dress and symbols in keeping with their religion; while on the other side of the fence recently one Lars Hedegaard was tried and found guilty of ‘racism and hate speech’ after making a comment on sexual abuse in Muslim communities. As president of the Danish Free Press Society, Lars believed that a fear of being ‘Islamophobic’ was preventing frank discussion about the threat of extremist Islam. Meanwhile the Kate Middleton photos in Closer have once again brought the laws regarding freedom of speech into sharp focus (and the way they cross over with privacy laws.

The area of freedom of speech is a highly complicated one with no ‘right’ answer – it is difficult to grant more freedom in this regard without opening up the opportunity for the incitement of hatred or the breach of privacy. While Europe is committed in principal to freedom of speech it seems that the concept is less rigid than in the US where it is laid out in the US Bill of Rights. So do you think this is a good thing, or do you think the EU should be more interested in safe guarding freedom of speech even in controversial areas?