Trump’s electoral fiction floats free of verifiable reality. It is defended not so much by facts as by claims that someone else has made some claims. The sensibility is that something must be wrong because I feel it to be wrong, and I know others feel the same way. When political leaders such as Ted Cruz or Jim Jordan spoke like this, what they meant was: You believe my lies, which compels me to repeat them. Social media provides an infinity of apparent evidence for any conviction, especially one seemingly held by a president.
The robust protection of freedom of expression is not well-served by the assumption that the regulation of free expression may never take into account the content of the expression being regulated. The assumption fails to acknowledge that some forms of expression are far more valuable and in need of protection in a democracy than others. It also fails to acknowledge that some forms of expression threaten democracy and the dignity of those who live in it. The idea of a content neutral approach to the protection of freedom of expression should, therefore, be rejected as it is not useful for the effective protection of freedom of expression in a democracy that respects human dignity and diversity. To the extent that free expression is believed to operate in a free marketplace of ideas, it furthermore fails to identify (and may even mask) some of the most pressing threats posed to a thriving free expression culture. Instead, turning to the South African Bill of Rights – with its general limitation clause – will provide for a far more nuanced and effective approach to the possible limitation of free expression, provided that certain important safeguards are put in place. The article therefore argues that we should reject the metaphor of the free marketplace of ideas and should, instead, turn to the idea that freedom of expression’s protection depends to some extent at least on whether it advances, protects or reflects the values that form part of the ‘objective normative value system’ embodied in the South African Constitution. The article concludes by arguing that the problems raised by the metaphor of free marketplace of ideas can at least partly be addressed by reimagining freedom of expression as a right that places not only negative obligations on the state to refrain from interfering with the right of individuals to receive and impart information and ideas, but also as a right that places positive obligations on the state to take steps progressively to extend the ability of individuals to receive and impart ideas and to access a more diverse array of information and ideas.BACK TO TOP