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

●  “International groups call on Turkey’s parliament to reject the “disinformation” bill as a tool of digital censorship.” IFEX partners, including twenty-three international media freedom, freedom of expression and journalists’ organisations, have called for the immediate dismissal of a bill on “disinformation and fake news”, which was submitted to the Turkish parliament on May 27. While the governing parties claim it is line with the European Union’s Digital Services Act and General Data Protection Regulation, the vague “bill threatens up to three years’ imprisonment for those found guilty of the deliberate publishing of ‘disinformation and fake news’ intended to instigate fear or panic, endanger the country’s internal or external security, public order and general health of Turkey’s society.”

● LEXOTA—Laws on Expression Online: Tracker and Analysis. LEXOTA offers a comprehensive overview of laws, policies and other government actions on disinformation in every country in Sub-Saharan Africa. The new tool is powered by multilingual data and context-sensitive insight from civil society organisations and uses a detailed framework to assess whether government responses to disinformation are human rights-respecting. A dynamic comparison feature empowers users to examine the regulatory approaches of different countries and to compare how different policy responses measure up against human rights standards, providing them with insights into trends across the region as well as the option to examine country-specific analyses.

● The Human Cost of Internet ShutdownsThis episode of the Human Rights Foundation’s Dissidents and Dictators podcast series outlines why authoritarian governments impose internet shutdowns, how they have been used to strip individuals of their human rights and economic possibilities, and what technology and movements can do to secure a free and open future for the internet. Guests include Scott Carpenter, Director of Policy and International Engagement at Jigsaw; Justin Henck, Product Manager at Jigsaw; Vinicius Fortuna, Software Engineer Lead at Jigsaw; Felicia Anthonio, Campaigner and #KeepItOn Lead at Access Now; Roya Ensafi, Assistant Professor in Computer Science and Engineering at the University of Michigan; and Marianne Díaz Hernández, Venezuelan activist and #KeepItOn Fellow.

Decisions this Week

South Africa
Tiso Blackstar Group (PTY) LTD v. Steinhoff International Holdings N.V.
Decision Date: May 10, 2022
The Western Cape High Court in Cape Town, South Africa, held that a private company was not entitled to refuse access to a financial report commissioned to investigate alleged auditing irregularities. Two media entities had filed access to information requests with the company after the company’s share price dropped when its auditors were unable to sign the annual financial statements. The company refused the requests, stating that the report was subject to legal privilege. The Court focused on the purpose of the report, finding that it had not been commissioned for the “express” purpose of anticipated litigation and so was not subject to legal privilege. The Court set aside the company’s decision to refuse access, and ordered the report be released within ten days.

European Court of Human Rights
NIT S.R.L. v. the Republic of Moldova
Decision Date: April 5, 2022
The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) found no violation of the right to freedom of expression and information in a case concerning the withdrawal of a television station’s licence in Moldova. The licence of the television channel NIT was revoked in 2012 because of the failure to provide balanced political coverage, and in particular for its biased support of the communist opposition party in Moldova (PCRM) and its harsh criticism of (members of) the Government and its supporting coalition, the Alliance for European Integration (AEI). The ECtHR was satisfied that the Moldovan authorities had struck a fair balance between the general interest of the community in order to protect media pluralism and the right to freedom of expression of the television station as guaranteed by Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). Three judges dissented, arguing that the revocation decision was marred by serious procedural shortcomings, also raising substantial questions about the Moldovan media regulator’s impartiality in the process.

Asif Imran v. State
Decision Date: January 30, 2019
The High Court Division of the Supreme Court of Bangladesh convicted five of the nine persons accused for the murder of journalist Goutam Das. He was murdered by the contractors who were renovating a road in Faridapur, Bangladesh called “Mujib Sarak”, for his reporting on the corruption and crime, in the renovation. Out of the nine accused, three were found guilty on the basis of their confessional statements and two accused were found guilty on circumstantial evidence. Four accused were acquitted because the prosecution could not fulfill the burden of proof.

The Case of Google Search Results and
Decision Date: December 14, 2016
The German Higher Regional Court Karlsruhe held that Google was not obliged to remove search results linking to online articles in which individuals were named and described as racist and Islamophobic. After two articles were published on an online media platform, the individuals requested that Google remove those articles from search results of their names. Google de-indexed the results but the articles were then moved to a different URL and the individuals requested that Google block all results from the online platform – which Google refused. The Heidelberg Regional Court partially granted injunctive relief, ordering Google to remove one of the articles on the grounds that it violated personal rights, but refused the request for the full blocking of search results. The Karlsruhe Higher Regional Court dismissed the appeal in its entirety, finding that there had been no violation of the individuals’ personal rights and no defamation, and that the right to freedom of expression outweighed the personal rights of the individuals. The Court stated that an absolute ban on links to the articles – as sought by the individuals – would have been an unjustifiable limitation of the right to freedom of expression.

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.

Equally Safe: Towards a Feminist Approach to the Safety of Journalists
This Report published by ARTICLE 19 asks what might feminist approaches to the protection of journalists look like, and what benefits might they bring? While the report offers a global perspective, it has a focus on six countries – three in Asia (Bangladesh, Nepal, and Sri Lanka) and three in Latin America (Brazil, Chile, and Paraguay). Through a series of case studies it “documents women’s monumental efforts to make structural changes, tackle entrenched patterns of gender-based discrimination and violence, and enhance the safety of women journalists.” It further offers practical guidelines, and advocacy tools to help civil society, journalists, researchers, and policymakers to apply an intersectional feminist approach in their work.

Promoting Gender Equity in the Right of Access to Information
This Report by Laura Neuman is part of UNESCO’s work as the custodian agency for SDG Indicator 16.10.2 on Public Access to Information. Based on the premise that women face legal, structural, and cultural obstacles to the realization of their right to access information, the report explores the “international and national mechanisms to help overcome the obstacles that women face.” It further offers a range of recommendations including promoting gender-sensitive Right to Information (RTI) laws, and “developing a comprehensive strategy, plan of action and accompanying dedicated budget to ensure that RTI is equitable.”

Post Scriptum

● In “Clearer than ever that America must invest in truth”, an op-ed for the Hill, RFE/RL President Jamie Fly addresses the need to support independent journalism, especially for Russian audiences. Fly observes that in recent decades, “[i]nstead of bolstering support for independent media outlets in closed or closing societies, many leaders in democratic societies began to focus their attacks on the media in their own countries.” Putin’s recent success in isolating Russia from outside voices is a direct result of that policy, which enabled him to dismantle independent Russian media and invest “billions of dollars in disinformation campaigns designed to exert complete information control at home and undermine democracy abroad.”

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