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

● Upcoming Event“Democratic recession or breaking point for the ‘bulwark of liberty’?” Join Columbia Global Freedom of Expression for a conversation between Jacob Mchangama, founder of Justitia and Joel Simon, fellow at the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia Journalism School and former executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists about this moment in human history with the war in Ukraine and what it means for the future of free speech. Mchangama has just released a new book Free Speech: A History From Socrates to Social Media and will offer some historical perspectives on threats to this “first freedom” and the current struggle for democracy in the digital age. The event will take place online Tuesday, 22 March 2022 from 12:00 – 1:00 PM EST. Register here.

● Anya Proops QC in an Inforrm’s Blog, “A war of words: EU sanctions and the blocking of online ‘disinformation,’” asks whether recent EU sanctions prohibiting the broadcasting of Russian state news organizations in Europe may undermine the liberal democratic values they are intended to protect? She explains that while the ban was implemented to “prevent ‘toxic and harmful disinformation in Europe,’” it’s scope has been widened to further prohibit the indexing by search engines in Europe of any URLS or content from RT or Sputnik, and the publication of such content by social media platforms. Proops cautions that despite the moral justifications, the actions reflect an “informational paternalism” employing forms of censorship, potentially including proactive content monitoring, to “defeat disinformation” rather than “calling it out for what it is, and leaving citizens to form their own view[.]”

●IFEX reports that Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have called on Mexican legislators to shelve a bill being considered by Mexico’s Chamber of Deputies which would severely restrict the work of civil society groups in Mexico and violate Mexico’s international legal obligations. The bill “would prohibit nonprofit organizations from trying to influence or change laws either through lobbying or through strategic litigation if they receive funding, directly or indirectly, from foreign governments or corporations. The government would have the authority to revoke the nonprofit status of organizations that violate the prohibition.”

Decisions this Week

Sudestada and Fabián Werner v. Google
Decision Date: December 21, 2021
The Civil Court of Appeals of 7th Turn declared that Uruguayan courts do not have jurisdiction to decide on a case in which Google applied the right to be forgotten according to European Law against a local media outlet and a journalist. Sudestada, a news portal, filed an Amparo against Google for deindexing an article in which the journalist, Fabián Werner, reported on the involvement of two Uruguayan law firms in a money laundry scheme revealed in the Panama Papers. Sudestada and Werner claimed the measure violated their rights to freedom of expression and due process. Google argued that the decision was taken to comply with a request from a Spanish citizen grounded in the European privacy framework, limited to that jurisdiction, and therefore the content was available to Uruguayan users. The Court considered that the content was not removed from the internet globally but only deindexed by one search engine in a specific region, to conclude that the deindexing did not entail a restriction to freedom of expression or press. The Court found that the defendant acted accordingly to a foreign law and that Uruguayan courts are not competent to evaluate the legitimacy of the decision or the process. For this reason, the Court concluded that plaintiffs should look for relief in Spanish courts.

Bosnia and Herzegovina
The Case of Milan Blagojević
Decision Date: October 5, 2021
The Constitutional Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina unanimously found no violation of the right to freedom of expression in a case involving a disciplinary sanction against a judge of an ordinary court who publicly disseminated his dissenting opinion in a criminal law case. The local rules allowed for judges to dissent, but they were not allowed to communicate their dissenting opinions to parties of a criminal procedure or to the public. Thus, dissenting opinions were to remain secret. The Court reasoned that even though judges enjoy the right enshrined in Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, the right to freedom of expression is limited, in particular with maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary.

European Court of Human Rights
Von Hannover v. Germany (I)
Decision Date: June 24, 2004
The European Court of Human Rights held that the publication by tabloid magazines of a series of photos of Princess Caroline of Monaco, taken without her knowledge and showing scenes from her daily life, violated her right to privacy and family life as enshrined in Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The Court was presented with a conflict between the freedom of the press and the right to protect private life, particularly of public figures. The Court rejected the German Courts’ decisions, which had found that the applicant was undeniably a contemporary public figure par excellence and thus, had to tolerate the publication of such photographs even when they were not related to her official duties. The European Court held that the press reporting on details about the applicant’s personal life, notably as she did not exercise an official State function, did not fall under the watchdog role of the press and did not contribute to a debate of general interest.

hing Freedom of Expression Without Frontiers

This section of the newsletter features teaching materials focused on global freedom of expression which are newly uploaded on Freedom of Expression Without Frontiers.

Freedom of Speech and Media Plurality in the Context of the COVID-19 Pandemic
This report by the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum discusses governmental restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic, and refers to them as “a stress test for multiple areas related to human rights, including the freedom of speech and media plurality.” It observes that concerns have been raised over the respect of the freedom of expression, both for individuals and the media, in several Eastern Partnership countries. Their analysis “focuses on identifying positive and negative changes with regards to freedom of speech and media resulting from policies related to COVID-19, examining the role of media in providing reliable information about COVID-19, evaluating the role of digitalisation on independent media, and assessing the impact of the strengthened strategic communication and support for media in the implementation of the 20 Deliverables for 2020.”

Post Scriptum

● The Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University has published a timeline tracking “actions taken globally by platforms, publishers, and governments that affect the information ecosystem in Russia and Ukraine. This includes any requests from various governments to platform companies, shifting platform policies, changes due to new sanctions and legislation, new products or technologies necessitated by critical infrastructure being rendered unavailable, as well as changes made due to increased security risks.” It is being updated regularly and the Columbia Journalism Review has an article about it

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