Prof, Dr. Fernando Toller, director of the Constitutional Law Department of Universidad Austral, talked about freedom of speech and made it clear that using it to slander, hurt, insult or persecute others falls outside the legitimate exercise of the right.
As he explained, all rights have to be exercised within a rational and fair scope. “What is beyond this scope is not a right that can be restricted or punished but an abuse, because it goes beyond its regular or harmonic exercise in relation to other rights and other people who hold other rights”, he stated.
Prof. Toller added that when the exercise of free speech causes harm, the person who has freely expressed himself/herself must take responsibility for it. “Everyone has the right to hold an opinion, to disagree and to accuse, but it must be done with respect and without exchange of offensive or hurtful speech”, he indicated.
This Human Rights specialist regretted that social networks currently contribute to the emergence of people who anonymously devote themselves to insulting others and making offensive comments, thus leaving no room for rational discussion. “It is somehow quite inevitable that this will happen in modern networks, because it isn’t reasonable to require of people who create an application that they monitor everything or censor comments. However, you can block users who are offensive”, he recommended.
Guarantee of democracy
When consulted about the relationship between media and government, often engaged in mutual criticism and confrontation, Prof. Toller noted that although any individual is free to voice his/her opinion, journalists must comply with lex artis, that is, journalism ethics.
“Most of the world’s media share common elements in their codes of ethics or lex artis: to check sources, to provide objective reports, to show respect for sources, that is, not changing or interpreting words. Many journalists observe these principles and have never been charged for breach of ethics because they handle information with the utmost care. Others, however, reveal data without solid checking and let themselves be carried away by gossip”, he explained.
Prof. Toller added that acting irresponsibly can carry huge risks to other people’s honor and therefore it’s not a harmonious or ethical way of exercising freedom of expression.
“The media is the guardian of democracy, and it generally plays an important role, particularly in Latin America. It helps fairly helpless citizens to control very powerful governments and to stand up to State actions. The media performs this necessary task of controlling the government”, he emphasized.