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Exercising our opinions – a constitutional right

Exercising our opinions – a constitutional right

                                                                         Taye Kebede 05-02-17

The right to express opinion freely is a right that is ensured in any democratic country. This right can be expressed in general and specific way through the procedures and laws that are enacted based on the constitution. Citizens are given legal protection for them to express their opinion freely in a democratic manner, either separately or together. In this regard, the FDRE government has put laws and proclamations that would help mass Medias carry out their tasks in a healthy and free manner. Out of these legal frameworks, the constitution takes the major place.

The FDRE constitution has important issues within it on seven sub-articles under article 29 below the title ‘Right to Hold Opinions, Thoughts and Free Expressions’. Those are; everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without any interference; everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression without interference; freedom of the press and mass media as well as freedom of artistic creation is guaranteed; and the press shall be granted institutional independence and legal protection to enable it to accommodate different opinions and ensure the free flow of information, ideas and opinions that are necessary in a democratic society.

In addition to this, it is stipulated that any media financed or controlled by the government shall be organized in a manner suitable for the accommodation of differences of opinion, and nothing in the foregoing shall absolve anyone of liability arising from laws enacted to protect public morals, peace, human dignity and democratic rights of citizens. What we can see from these seven sub-articles is the fact that not only the right to hold opinions, thoughts and free expression is like any democratic rights, but that specific right is implemented through proclamations and laws that are enacted basing on the constitution.

As long as this one right is given, it teaches us that a limit might be imposed on it in order to implement it in a legal manner. Of course any rights that are given in any democratic country are linked with duties. Thus, it is impossible to look into rights without duties – as both are two sides of the same coin. All in all, as far as I can understand, the developmental and democratic FDRE government doesn’t aim to limit the right to hold and freely express opinion for the sake of putting limits. Just like a beginner democratic country, the government has tried to wait on patiently when it comes to exercising the rights because they may be some undemocratic values entrenched within the society, so it chooses to teach and educate. I think the government does this out of its deep desire to deepen and widen our country’s democracy.

Thus in this article I will try to probe into the seven rights and limits I mentioned above when it comes to the right to holding and expressing opinions freely. Knowing about the rights along with their limits can create awareness for the Medias and the general public who exercise that respective right.

One of the rights that have constitutional protection with regards to the right to holding and expressing opinions freely is the right anyone has to hold any kind of opinion. This right states that the right to hold an opinion has got constitutional protection in the new Ethiopia. It is a concept that refers to holding opinion, holding stance on something without acting upon it and displaying the opinion within the appropriate legal frameworks. The concept explains that mankind has the right to hold and act upon any opinion he or she deems benefits them. In this context, there are two issues which are holding and expressing opinion. These two issues maybe expressed together or separately.

When they are expressed separately, they show a reality where a person can hold any opinion but may not take action upon it. When they are expressed together, they create the condition for a person to both hold an opinion and act upon it – without any interference. Meaning that any person in the developmental and democratic system of our country cannot be hold responsible for holding an opinion and expressing it through any medium of his choosing – in fact the person can further express it by getting legal protection. I think this shows how much our federal system is unique to previous systems of the country in that it gives legal protection for our citizens to exercise their rights.

The other thing that is should be mentioned in regards to rights holding and expressing opinion freely relates to press. Here I think we should look into the term ‘Press’ as an entity that represent every media types. Thus, the constitution has given the press legal protection for it to be free in its institutional procedure and in hosting any kind of national views. This enables the Press to carry out its social responsibility that it has the obligation to do. It enables it to run any kind of opinion or views without any limit. However, when the Press undertakes its social responsibility, it should take into account the realities of developing countries.

The hopes of our people are tied to peace, development and democracy. They have decided to win against poverty and break free from it. They have seen that they can do that through the tangible results that have been gained for the past 26 years.

Indeed! The people of the new Ethiopia are able to be have lasting peace, rapid and sustainable development and deep rooting democratic system – within these few years. And in regards to the Africa’s realities on the ground, many have gone through the basic transformational process that most of the continent’s countries couldn’t achieve. Today our African brothers are taking lesson from our country’s successes. We can mention Liberia’s President Ellen Sirleaf Johnson, who recently came to our country in a three days official visit. The president stated that she wants to take away lessons from our country’s industry and other development sectors.

In my belief, in addition to the bilateral relation, it shows the bourgeoning position our country is currently at. Thus, I think, like any democratic institution, our country’s Press should support the comprehensive changes that are going on in the country and point out at the problems fairly. As the Press of any country operates in the politico-economy landscape of the country, it should fulfill the peoples’ aspiration to break free from poverty by supporting the politico-economy works and pointing out the problems.

The other issue that should be mentioned in terms of the right to hold and express opinion freely relates to public Medias. Mass Medias are expected to host any opinion and view in fair and equal manner in order to fulfill the information demand of the public. And the constitutional right that is stipulated on the constitution to bestow the right to hold and express opinion freely allows them to exactly does that.

As the public Medias are accountable to the house of people’s representatives, they have the legal and professional duty to host everyone equally. In my belief, although the Medias are not that much organized, they have gone far in terms of hosting everyone and letting their voice be heard. I believe they will carry out their role in further widening this democratic path. The principle that say ‘… the right to get access to information freely should not be limited by its content and the attitudinal outcome that it might bring’ relates to the other citizen right that has been given constitutional protection. The principle shows that any citizen will not be hold responsible for the opinion he or she voices or writes.

The principle also shows that there will be no journalist or blogger that would be imprisoned for what he or she writes. The government hasn’t held anyone accountable for their professions as long as they didn’t violate the law – as the constitution wouldn’t allow it. Maybe we may hear that ‘a person is imprisoned for being a journalist’. However, it should be known that such kind of remark is baseless and contradicts with the constitution. This is because; as per the principle, any citizen will not have any legal accountability for expressing their opinion through words or writing.

However, if individuals violate the country’s laws under the guise of journalism, or if they flaunt the agenda of groups that are branded as terrorists by our country, they will be hold accountable by the country’s laws. And I think it should be understood that this has to do with rule of law, and has nothing to do with freely expressing opinion. This is because; while freely expressing opinion is a constitutional right; doing crime under profession is legal issue and should be treated as such.


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