There is – has always been and will continue to be – a discussion on what exactly is democracy. It seems that there is no agreement on one definition as to what it entails and how far it should go. In some countries, democracy is hailed as the total freedom of the people to exercise enshrined rights.
Thus, in some countries, the people have seemingly absolute freedom and therefore they say and do things which are otherwise unacceptable. They all claim that as they are living in a democracy, they have the right to do as they please so long as it does not infringe on the rights of others.
Democracy goes with freedom of expression and that of the press. Thus, one can express their opinion without fear of repercussions. But it is agreed by most people that freedom of speech cannot be absolute. There must be some limitation as to what constitutes free speech and what does not. The ideal situation is where citizens are free to express themselves without any fear so long as they do not endanger the peace of society.
The difficulty here is that the State must ensure that there is peace and security and that citizens are protected at all times in terms of their lives and properties. It is in the provision of that protection that there is a clash with the need to protect and safeguard the rights of the citizens in general.
One of the rights of the public is access to timely and accurate information. This is where the press comes in. The press, referred to as the fourth estate, is such an important arm of governance that it is indispensible for development. When there is no free and vibrant press, a lot of problems come in and make governance extremely difficult. This is why it is necessary to have a press that is unfettered in its work.
The emergence of the Internet has now made everyone a journalist and as such, everywhere, people seek to share information sometimes unverified or in a way that runs counter to the ethics and norms of journalism. This has made it harder for governments to walk the tight rope of protecting the peace and security of the people and giving them the freedoms that they crave.
We have seen examples of this catch-22 situation in the Gambia when some people have been detained and charged for opinions they shared on social media or investigations they sought to do on the unfortunate shooting incident that took place in the country recently.
But democracy has also provided a solution to this problem which seems to be its by-product – and that is the judiciary. A free judiciary should serve as a referee on these competing ideas so that everyone will have the confidence that their rights will not be violate. Or; if they are, they can have somewhere to seek remedy.
As said earlier, democracy is messy!