Freedom of speech is the legal right that is given by the constitution to individuals allowing them to express their opinions and ideas without any form of government intervention. It is the freedom of thought where one expresses his thought freely without censorship. Under the freedom of speech, one has the right to say what he pleases and also hearken to the opinions of others.
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It is referred as the first freedom as it was the first focus of The First Amendment of the U.S constitution although it is also described in The Fourteenth Amendment. Freedom of speech is one of the most critical concepts of current liberal democracies (Forsythe & McMahon 23). It is considered as the as the freedom above all liberties because it gives one the freedom to know, express and argue consciously without censorship.
Other freedoms make no sense without the freedom of speech. However, the freedom of speech is subject to laws that protect incitement to violence or any form of libel. Freedom of speech is taken as a mean of outlawing government censorship (Haaland 14).
Although the government guarantees the freedom of speech to the citizens, there are some expressions it regards as offensive and punishable by the law. These includes sedation, defamation or making public any matter that is regarded as the secrets of the government (TRF 1). Sedation entails speeches that are directed towards inciting rebellion against the authorities of the government.
This research seeks to ascertain the state of freedom of speech in the Balkans, a region in southern east Europe characterized by geopolitical aspect of power; that is the application of political power in manning a certain territory.
The scope of this research covers only the freedom of speech in the Balkans focusing mainly on some specific countries in the region. Though there is vast violation of freedom of speech in all countries in the Balkans, only five countries are discussed in this research. These include Croatia, Montenegro, Romania Macedonia and Kosovo.
In this research, secondary data will be used to gather the information needed. Therefore, there will be no formal research that will be carried out. The secondary data that will be explored will include Articles, journals, books and web pages related to the freedom of speech in the Balkans.
Freedom of speech in the Balkans
Freedom of speech is one of the fundamental freedoms that characterize every society that has democratic rights. In most societies, freedom 9of speech is regarded as the first freedom in the bill of rights. Freedom of speech is the main characteristics of a democratic society and marks political freedom of such societies. This freedom is taken to mean freedom of thought where one expresses his thought freely.
Banning or denying a person freedom of speech is depriving them of the freedom of expressing their thoughts. Most states do restrict free speech in the name of protecting their well-being. Other governments restrict freedom of speech in order to camouflage their excesses. In the legislation of all the countries in the Balkans, the freedom of speech is considered a human right and should not be denied whatsoever.
In the eight Balkans countries, the freedom of speech was respected as indicated by the US department of state (1) but there are some cases where these rights were infringed. The journalists were threatened by the governments and harassed in some places. According to Nikolovski (1), the jobs journalists in the Balkans are facing a lot of problems in almost all countries.
Governments have been trying to manipulate the media and threatening them whenever they fail to report in favor of their interest. In some countries in the Balkans, journalists have been killed for not reporting in favor of the government.
Freedom of speech in Macedonia
The constitution of Macedonia states that none should be deprived of the freedom of speech but speeches that incites are not allowed (EC 1). The constitution provides that any person especially broadcasters who misuses the freedom of speech by inciting people by his speeches attracts a penalty.
Individuals in Macedonia could initially criticize the government without any penalty but things have changed with time. There are various cases where the government has deprived the citizens of freedom of speech in Macedonia. For instance, journalists disrupted a press conference in 2007 and protested against the harassment they faced in the Macedonian parliament.
The reporter and a cameraman were harassed in parliament and were hindered from carrying out their duties. They were beaten and their tapes were snatched from them thus hindering them from doing their work effectively. Nikolovski stated that “according to the Southeast Europe Media Organization (SEEMO), more than 450 criminal lawsuits involving insult and slander were filed in Macedonia between 2003 and 2005” (Nikolovski 1).
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Most of these crimes were done by public officials and many more cases were pending filing. The government influence on media outlets was very rampant in Macedonia. The government was putting a lot of pressure on media outlets and even threatening them that failed to report in its favor.
The government continued to get a lot of criticism because of manipulating the media outlets and the 12 journalists who were charged with slandering were granted amnesty. The Macedonian Radio and Television (MRTV) showed favor to the government in its reporting and it was launched by the government as the only one authorized to report government issues to the public. Many reporters and journalists were charged in courts for slandering and this hampered their performance and denied them independence.
In many cases, the media instruments were stolen during national campaigns in order to restrict the journalists from doing some political reporting. Television transmitters were stolen from the local televisions during these campaigns.
The aim of this act was meant to silence the media so that they fail to communicate information about the elections to the public (Hagan 15). This was criticized by Association of Journalists of Macedonia as a plan to deny the media of the freedom of press. The international community for journalists also condemned the act.
Freedom of speech in Croatia
The case in Croatia was not any difference from Macedonia and the journalists were threatened with death work hampered. The influence of media by the government continued despite the provision by the constitution. The constitution provides that the freedom of speech for individuals and freedom of press of media should be respected.
However, the freedom of speech and press are restricted by the constitution and any misuse is penalized. Hate speech, for instance, is punishable by over six months imprisonment (Rodham 28). Initially, newspapers and magazines enjoyed the freedom of press but the government later started manipulating them.
About 70% of the local media in Croatia was owned by the local government and this was a strategy of the government to win influence over the media. This local media was funded by the local government and therefore it was easier for the government to put financial pressure on them. Many journalists were also arrested and charged in courts with various unfair charges. Most of their equipments were seized by the police as they were directed by the government in order to make their work impossible.
Death threats were also common especially to those reporting on war crime topics. For instance, Nikolovski stated that “On November 27, Drago Hedl, “Jutarnji list” commentator and journalist, received a text message threatening to “massacre” him.” (Nikolovski 1). These threats were meant to silence him and prevent him from reporting unfavorable things about the state.
According to The US Department of State (1), the Croatian Journalists Association (CJA) expressed the concern that the freedom of speech of media in Croatia is greatly affected by the concentration of ownership of the media outlets by the state. The state is having a lot of influence on the media through state owned media outlets.
The local journalists suffered salary reduction on allegations that they criticized the ministers in the government for their behaviors. Workers in the investigative journalism were threatened together with their families and they were told to stop investigative journalism.
Freedom of speech in Montenegro
In Montenegro, the practice of the freedom of speech and press were restricted to some issues by the law. In the country legislation, it is lawful to criticize the government whether publicly or privately and media could do it without being arrested. Later on, the media faced threats and harassments related to their reporting (Ramet 21).
Some of them were killed and others were threatened with death. Many journalists and other media workers were accused of defamation and hate speeches. The media became very ineffective due to these cases and lacked freedom in doing their jobs. The government wins control over media in Montenegro because it owns a big part of print media. The officials in the media were government appointees who could easily be manipulated.
The freedom of speech was therefore jeopardized by government manipulation. In 2000, the media, especially state -run in Montenegro was restricted from reporting the elections in order to prevent the government interests. The constitution had allowed the government -run media to operate as purely public but this has been under criticism that it is the strategy of the government to control the media.
The government had strategies for financing the public broadcaster and this was also criticized that it was an avenue of the government controlling the media. The public broadcaster was also accused of favoring the government in its reporting. This was regarded as misuse of the freedom of speech and press and it raised the concern of the media authorities in the country (Shetreet, 32).
Freedom of speech in Romania
The government of Romania respected the freedom of speech and press but some restrictions grew up with time. The legislation in Romania allowed the persons to criticize the government of any notable malpractice. The government ensured the freedom of speech and press is followed but some laws are still oppressive to the media and raised the concern of the media outlets owners (Rosamond 26).
The law restricts insults and defamation and such cases are charged as criminal cases. Insulting the state is hitherto punishable by imprisonment in Romania. The persons who may be accused of insulting the nati9oknal anthem, flag or even the Court Of Arms would suffer imprisonment stipulated by the law although no such cases have so far been experienced in Romania.
In Romania there were some cases where media was threatened by the government authorities in order for them not to cover some of their excesses. There were also cases where the reporters were assaulted and threatened with death and lawsuits. Independent media initially enjoyed the freedom of press and speech and could express their view with no restrictions. Later on, politicians started owning most of the media outlets in the country, directly or indirectly.
This created an avenue for the politicians controlling the media. The news and editorial tones of these media owned by the politicians were dominated by the views of their owners and not independently their own views (Hammond 18). These politicians and other wealthy people purchased most of the media outlets and their control increased as a result.
The freedom of speech of the journalists was therefore denies because they could only express the thoughts and views of media owners. Journalists who refused to comply with the views of the politicians were insulted and others harassed by the members of the public. The politicians incited the members of the public to harass the journalists who could not obey them.
Reporters were physically assaulted for writing articles criticizing the mischief of some politicians and other wealthy people in the country. Newspapers photographers were also harassed and their cameras confiscated by the bodyguards of some politicians.
The photos were deleted thus making them unable to report effectively. The distributions of some gazette were sometimes banned on allegations that they had false statements about the politicians.
These instances denied the media the freedom of speech and press. Other journalists were publicly insulted by the politicians they reported to the public for their malpractice in the government. There were also cases of media workers losing their jobs and receiving messages of death threats and accused of reporting false statements concerning the government.
Although the media in Romania complains that they are denied the freedom of speech, they should also try not to misuse the freedom. They sometimes reported false statements that got them in to trouble. Romania is one of the countries in the Balkans where the freedom of speech and press were vastly denied.
The government gained control over the media through owning most of the media outlets. According to (Armstrong & Forestier 32), most of the counties constitution does provide for the freedom of speech and press but there are also provisions that are put in place to prevent the misuse of these rights. The government can prevent some reports from reaching the public because they will cause more harm to the country (Oliver 23).
Freedom of speech in Kosovo
Like in most of the other countries in the Balkans, the government of Kosovo respects the practice of the freedom of speech and press. It is in the interest of the country’s constitution to protect the freedom speech and press against denial and misuse.
Although the constitution provides for the freedom of speech and press, the reporters are still facing threats from the officials in the public sector and even the government itself (Rosamond 26).
They are being restricted from reporting on some issues that may genuinely be of public interest. The media face difficulties in getting information related to the government and some public institutions because the government does not want them to report to the public.
The media law in Kosovo does not allow hate speech or speeches that could cause incitement and the perpetrators are punishable by the law. Individuals could initially criticize the government as long as their criticism is free from hate speech. Financial difficulties of media outlets in Kosovo exposed them to external influence especially from the persons or groups that provided with finances.
This influence mostly affected the newspapers that were funded by the politicians and some prominent businessmen. These newspapers could only cover the views of these financiers. All these instances hampered the freedom of speech of the journalists as they could not independently express their thoughts.
In the research discussion above, freedom of speech is described as the legal right that is given by the constitution to individuals allowing them to express their opinions and ideas without any form of government intervention. Freedom of speech has some reasonable restrictions that are punishable by the law. For instance, sedition, defamation or publication of state secrets is prohibited by the law.
The findings of the study of five countries in the Balkans show that the governments respect the freedom of speech as provided for in the constitution. However, there are many instances that the government participated directly in denying the journalists their freedom of speech.
In all the countries studied, the journalists were threatened either with death or lawsuits. In other cases, the journalists were harassed, beaten and their cameras confiscated by politicians. In general, in the Balkans, the freedom of speech is highly violated in almost all countries.
The major challenges and limitations encountered in this research are finding out the most recent information on the topic. It is based on the assumption that the literature materials used are up to date, valid and reliable as per the date they were published.
More research would be needed in order to find out the expected future state of the freedom of speech in the Balkans based on the current situation and also the effects of the current violations on the future political development.
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