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.

2022 UNESCO World Press Freedom Day Conference 2-4 May

● “Latest Jurisprudence of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights on Freedom of Expression, Freedom of the Press & Safety of Journalists.” Join Columbia Global Freedom of Expression, UNESCO, OBSERVACOM, and the UNESCO Chair on Freedom of Expression at the University of Los Andes for an event as part of the World Press Freedom Day 2022 Global Conference. The event will focus on the judicial trends and rulings of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights related to the freedom of expression, freedom of the press, and the safety of journalists. Experts will discuss and analyze the trends in the context of the evolution of the Court’s jurisprudence related to freedom of expression, placing a special emphasis on the decisions adopted in the last few years. Please note the event will be in Spanish but simultaneous interpretation will be available in English for those that register and join through Zoom. Wednesday, May 4 at 8:00-10:00am (Bogota); 10:00-12:00pm (Montevideo); 11:00-1:00pm (New York). Register here.

● “SILENCED – Democracy, Journalism and Censorship in the Digital Age: An Interactive Dialogue with the High Level Panel of Legal Experts on Media Freedom.” The theme of this year’s conference is “Journalism under Digital Siege” focusing on the impact of the digital era on the right to freedom of expression, safety of journalists, and access to information. The panel will be moderated by the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission Pedro Vaca Villarreal, in conversation with Ms. Catherine Amirfar, Deputy Chair of the Hight Level Panel; Judge Chile Eboe-Osuji, Member of the High Level Panel; Prof. Dario Milo, Member of the High Level Panel; Ms. Marietje Schaake, Member of the High Level Panel; and Ms. Rodica Ciochina, Programme Officer, Media and Internet Governance Unit of the Information Society Department of the Directorate for Human Rights and Rule of Law, at the Council of Europe. Tuesday, May 3 at 9:00-10:00am (Montevideo), 8:00-9:00am (New York). Register here.

Community Highlights and Recent News

● Upcoming Event: “Government Responses To Online Disinformation Across Sub-Saharan Africa: A New Tool For Human Rights Defenders.” Join Global Partners Digital, the Centre for Human Rights at the University of Pretoria, Article 19 West Africa, the Collaboration on International ICT Policy in East and Southern Africa and PROTEGE QV for the launch of a new tool for human rights defenders, LEXOTA, which tracks and analyses government responses to online disinformation across Sub-Saharan Africa. In recent years, states in Sub-Saharan Africa have increasingly responded to disinformation through overly broad content-based restrictions and regulations, many of which pose significant risks to individuals’ right to freedom of expression. Powered by data and insight from a Consortium of civil society organisations, LEXOTA aims to help human rights defenders across the region challenge problematic laws and policies against disinformation. Tuesday, May 10 at 12:00-13:15 BST / 11:00-12:15 GMT. A live translation will be available in French and Portuguese. Register here.

● Upcoming Event: “Protecting the Press: International Standards & Judicial Trends in Cases of Violence Against Journalists.” Join Columbia Global Freedom of Expression for a virtual capstone event to present the final report of our findings on judicial trends around the world relating to violence against journalists. Over the last year, senior researchers studied and explored new judicial decisions, pinpointing those that upheld international human rights standards and held states accountable for their actions and their obligation to prevent, protect, and punish those crimes. Ramiro Alvarez Ugarte, Senior Researcher, Centro de Estudios en Libertad de Expresión (CELE) will moderate a discussion between Rachael KayDeputy Director, IFEX, and Barbora BukovskáSenior Director for Law and Policy, ARTICLE 19. Wednesday, May 11 at 10-11:00am ET. Register here.

● “Thoughts for the DSA: Challenges, Ideas and the Way Forward through International Human Rights Law.” Columbia Global Freedom of Expression partner Jacob Mchangama, Executive Director of Danish think tank Justitia, has published a short position paper on the Digital Services Act. Mchangama welcomes the approach adopted by the European Parliament which allows for conditional liability rather than a general monitoring obligation, therefore providing some safeguard for freedom of expression and avoiding generic blanket bans and over-zealous moderation. He warns, however, especially in relation to hate speech and disinformation that increasing platform liability for user content inherently places the freedom of expression at risk and shrinks civic space. Further, private companies who are not bound by International Human Rights Law can become triers of fact and law (at risk of fines) leading to a “better safe than sorry approach” and enhanced use of Artificial Intelligence. Foreign Policy published his companion piece, “The Real Threat to Social Media Is Europe.”

Decisions this Week

UEJF v. Twitter
Decision Date: January 20, 2022
The Paris Court of Appeal confirmed an order from the Paris Tribunal ordering Twitter to provide information on their measures to fight online hate speech. Six French organizations had approached the Court after their research indicated that Twitter only removed under 12% of tweets that were reported to them, and sought information on the resources Twitter dedicated to the fight against online racist, anti-Semitic, homophobic speech and incitement to gender-based violence and commission of crimes against humanity. The Paris Tribunal had ruled that Twitter provide this information, and despite Twitter’s argument in the Court of Appeal that they had no statutory obligation to disclose this information, the Court held that the organizations were entitled to the information to enable them to determine whether to file an application under French law that Twitter was not promptly and systematically removing hate speech from their platform.

Andrea Lilian Uribe Peña v. Ministry of Labour and Carlos Alberto Merchán Espíndola
Decision Date: January 30, 2020
The Constitutional Court of Colombia rejected a tutela in which the plaintiff was seeking the deletion of an offensive Facebook post against her. The plaintiff considered that a Facebook post in which she was accused of bullying a minor sullied her good name and honor. The Court held that, although the post and related meme were taken out of context, thus misrepresenting the purpose of the plaintiff’s original post, it had no capacity of affecting her rights to a degree that required constitutional protection. Further, Uribe could resort to ordinary procedures provided by the law against harassment in workspaces.

S.G. v. Unione Sarda S.P.A.
Decision Date: June 4, 2019
The United Sections (“Sezioni Unite”) of the Italian Supreme Court held that a newspaper had violated the right to be forgotten of a man convicted of murder 27 years previously by publishing an article about the murder and  enabling the murderer’s identification. After the Court of First Instance in Cagliari and the Court of Appeals of Cagliari had found in the newspaper’s favor, the Court distinguished between the right to inform, particularly of new facts in the public interest, and the historical re-evocation of facts of the past as in the present case. The Court held that a subject of a past event that had been lawfully reported on has what could be called “a right to keeping the dishonor secret.” Hence, any re-evocation of the past without connection to current events must be done by anonymizing the person involved when this person does not play a relevant public role.

The Case of Chilean Journalist Oscar Caceres
Decision Date: March 14, 2019
The Chilean Supreme Court granted protection to journalist Oscar Caceres on the basis of a violation to his right to inform without prior censorship. The journalist was attacked by Jose Ancan, a security guard, when he tried to interview Bishop Eduardo Duran at the Evangelical Cathedral of Santiago. Caceres intended  to ask the Bishop his opinion on an investigation conducted by the Public Prosecutor’s Office for an alleged money laundering offense affecting some authorities of the Evangelical Church. The Supreme Court considered Article 19, paragraph 12 of the Chilean Constitution, as well as Article 13 of the American Convention on Human Rights and other international provisions, and found that the journalist’s rights had been violated.

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.

ARTICLE 19’s Recommendations for the European Media Freedom Act
On March 20, 2022, ARTICLE 19 submitted its response to the European Commission’s Public Consultation for the European Media Freedom Act (EMFA), legislation that aims to ensure that media freedom and pluralism are the pillars of democracy in the EU. ARTICLE 19 lauds the initiative, as it has long warned that the EU law should consider media not simply as economic actors but recognize independent journalism as a public good that needs protection in its own right. The submission makes several recommendations on how EMFA should achieve these goals and improve media freedom and protection in the EU and beyond.

New Guidelines for Protecting Women Journalists
ARTICLE 19’s three practical guidelines focus on how an intersectional gender approach can enhance the safety of all women journalists. The new guidelines provide practical recommendations for how civil society organizations working on the safety of journalists can mainstream this into their work or implement this approach.

Post Scriptum

 ● “Ain’t that funny? A jurisprudential analysis of humour in Europe and the U.S.” by Global Freedom of Expression partner Natalie Alkiviadou in the European Journal of Humor Research explores the legal fragility of balancing exercises between the right to offend and the right to be free from offence in light of the unique ways individuals interpret and respond to humor. Her analysis demonstrates “that humour receives much greater protection in the U.S. framework due to the First Amendment whereas the highest regional human rights court in Europe, namely the European Court of Human Rights is quick to limit humorous speech on grounds of offending others, thereby demonstrating a backsliding of the fundamental freedom of expression, including humorous expression in the region.”

● “Shareholder Power as a Constitutionalising Force: Elon Musk’s Bid to Buy Twitter” by Columbia Global Freedom of Expression legal researcher Giovanni De Gregorio, Pietro Dunn, and Oreste Pollicino on Vervassungsblog discusses the US and EU approaches to internet governance to highlight the disconnect between “what ultimately seems a public utility function and the private governance thereof which could potentially lead to problematic outcomes from a constitutional standpoint.” The authors observe that “the concrete risk is that of handing over the Internet, the centre of today’s public debate, to the hands of a powerful few, with potentially problematic consequences for the well-being of democracies and in the absence of those safeguards that are characteristic of a constitutional framework.”

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