Columbia Global Freedom of Expression seeks to contribute to the development of an integrated and progressive jurisprudence and understanding on freedom of expression and information around the world.  It maintains an extensive database of international case law. This is its newsletter dealing with recent developments  in the field.

Community Highlights and Recent News

● Agnes Callamard, Director of Columbia Global Freedom of Expression, and journalist Kara Swisher spoke with BBC Global Questions in their episode “Social Media – More Powerful Than Government?” about the deplatforming of Donald Trump and the power of the tech giants. They discussed whether big has tech gone too far with this kind of censorship, thus threatening freedom of speech or whether it was long overdue? And in the age of these new media monoliths, should they be mere platforms or must they accept that they’re publishers, responsible for content and democratically accountable?

● Irene Khan, the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, will focus on the issue of disinformation and freedom of opinion and expression in her upcoming report to the Human Rights Council, to be presented in June 2021. To that end, Khan invites interested stakeholders to share their views on the best way to tackle disinformation whilst protecting the right to freedom of opinion and expression. Deadline 15 February 2021

● The Committee to Protect Journalists calls on the Turkish authorities to immediately drop all charges against the journalists and press freedom advocates currently facing a second trial on trumped-up terrorism charges. Erol Önderoğlu, the Turkey representative of the international press freedom group Reporters Without Borders and editor of the Bianet independent news website along with journalists Şebnem Korur Fincancı and Ahmet Nesin are accused of promoting terrorist propaganda in their work with the pro-Kurdish daily Özgür Gündem in 2016; they were acquitted in 2019 but government prosecutors appealed that acquittal.

● The Bonavero Institute of Human Rights, Faculty of Law at the University of Oxford, is hosting the following upcoming events:

Decisions this Week

United Kingdom
Free Speech Union and Young v. Office of Communications
Decision Date: December 9, 2020
England’s High Court of Justice dismissed an application contesting the legality of the UK’s communications regulator’s policy on reporting coronavirus (COVID-19) disinformation. The Free Speech Union and its general secretary argued that the communications regulator had prohibited any discussion which challenges public policy, public health advice, mainstream source of information or otherwise reduces trust in government bodies, by labelling them as “harmful”. The Court found the claimants’ arguments based around what constitutes “harm” “untenable” as they failed to consider the wider context of the COVID-19 pandemic. Moreover, the UK regulator’s Guidance Notes at issue upheld recommendations presented by the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression. The Court further reasoned that the regulator had not failed in its obligations to protect freedom of expression under Article 10 of the European Convention Human Rights or under domestic law, but rather, its guidance supported the legitimate need of broadcasters to challenge, discuss and consider public policy in a democratic society – particularly during a serious public health crisis.

European Court of Human Rights
Panioglu v. Romania
Decision Date: December 8, 2020
The European Court of Human Rights found that code-of-conduct penalties imposed on a judge for publishing an injurious article about another notable judge did not violate the former’s right to freedom of expression. The applicant, Ms Panioglu, had written an article in the press insinuating that the President of the Court of Cassation’s previous career as a prosecutor was linked to the oppressions of the former communist regime. An investigation, opened against the applicant by the Judicial Investigation Unit (the IJ) and the Disciplinary Commission for Judges (the CDJ), considered that she might have breached Article 18 § 2 of the Code of Conduct for Judges (the Code) by expressing an opinion that harmed a fellow judge’s moral and professional integrity. The judge’s section of the Superior Council of the Judiciary (the CSM), the CSM’s Plenary, and the Court of Cassation all subsequently found that the applicant breached the Code. As a result, the violation was included in her professional file which impeded her from advancing her career. The European Court of Human Rights held that the code-of-conduct violation was not a violation of the applicant’s right to freedom of expression. The penalty was foreseeably prescribed by law, pursued a legitimate aim, and necessary in a democratic society. Specifically, the national authorities had properly balanced the right to expression with the judiciary’s preservation/other judge’s reputation. The imposed penalty was not excessive in the circumstances. Thus, Article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights was not breached.

Rout v. State of Odisha
Decision Date: November 23, 2020
The High Court of Orissa, India reaffirmed the need for the legislative recognition of the right to be forgotten while refusing to grant bail to a petitioner in a rape case. The accused was charged with raping a woman and uploading a video of the incident on Facebook to harass the victim, and he then applied for bail in the High Court. The Court refused to grant bail due to the heinousness of the crime, but also commented that the right to be forgotten is an integral part of the right to privacy and that there must be a mechanism through which a victim can protect her privacy by having the content deleted from servers of intermediaries. The Court held that in cases where a victim’s right to privacy has been gravely violated, the victim or the prosecution may approach a Court to seek appropriate orders and have the infringing content removed from public platforms – irrespective of the ongoing criminal process.

Post Scriptum

● “The Road Ahead: Mapping Civil Society Responses to Disinformation,” authored by Samantha Bradshaw and Lisa-Maria Neudert, is a working paper produced by the National Endowment for Democracy’s International Forum for Democratic Studies. This publication is part of an International Forum working paper series, examining the dynamics and impact of resurgent authoritarian influence in the era of globalization, including through networked transnational kleptocracy and the manipulation of the global information space.

This newsletter is reproduced with the permission of Global Freedom of Expression.  For an archive of previous newsletters, see here.