This particular Article gives everyone the right to freedom of expression – allowing all of us to have opinions and to give and receive information without any State interference. It covers communication using any medium – words, pictures and actions (such as protests) – and protects various types of expression: political, artistic and commercial. Unsurprisingly both political and artistic expression are particularly strongly guarded.
Obviously such a right would be pointless if it only protected certain types of expression. So – subject to some limitations – Article 10 covers both popular and not-so-popular expression; including speech that might well shock some of us.
Having said that, unlike some other rights (such as Article 3 – no torture, inhuman or degrading treatment), Article 10 is a qualified right. This means that freedom of expression can be limited if necessary. It may be restricted as long as the limitation is set by law, necessary and proportionate and pursues a legitimate aim – such as national security or public safety. The potential for a “chilling effect” on expression, the value of the particular form of expression and the medium used will all be taken into account when considering limiting Article 10 like this.
But Article 10 is not just about free speech. It is also a crucial tool for journalists, as it protects the concept of a free press – again so important in a democracy. The authorities have to be held accountable for the power they have, and that’s where the free press comes in. Without Article 10 investigative newspaper campaigns, undercover documentaries and exposure of matters of public interest would be vulnerable to attempts of censorship and suppression. The protection also covers sensitive journalistic sources – one of the ethical cornerstones of reporting.
Article 10 has thwarted a number of attempts to prevent journalists from doing their job freely. In 2007 a Milton Keynes Citizen journalist, Sally Murrer, was charged with illegally obtaining police information after receiving informal briefings from a Thames Valley Police detective sergeant. The force had bugged the officer’s car to record their conversations. But the case collapsed after their barristers argued that the evidence had been obtained in breach of Article 10 – and that the free press must be protected from such State interference. And very recently we saw Article 10 – and a dash of common sense – prevail as the Metropolitan Police rightly backed down in its attempt to force Guardian reporters to reveal confidential phone-hacking sources.
Sadly despite the vital protection Article 10 of the Human Rights Act gives journalists, during past months we have seen many attacks on the Act in the media. We hope all editors and reporters out there never forget how important human rights are to a free press.