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

● New Book: Social Media, Freedom of Speech, and the Future of our DemocracyIn Social Media, Freedom of Speech, and the Future of Democracy, two of the nation’s most distinguished First Amendment scholars, Columbia University President and founder of Global Freedom of Expression Lee C. Bollinger and University of Chicago Law Professor Geoffrey R. Stone, have brought together experts from a variety of disciplines to explore the complexities of this problem. They include Jack Balkin, Emily Bazelon, Hillary Clinton, Jamal Greene, Amy Klobuchar, Newt Minow, Cass Sunstein, Sheldon Whitehouse, and others. Their essays ask probing and thoughtful questions about the future of free speech as we look ahead to the future.

● Reconsidering the Fight Against Disinformation: Tech Policy Press has two articles focusing on the problem of disinformation. The first article, by Théophile Lenoir, summarizes discussions among academics “aimed at reframing the field of disinformation studies by identifying ‘the importance of historical contextual and geopolitical approaches’ for understanding the relationships between truth, power and politics.” Lenoir posits that technology cannot solve political problems, and the best counter to disinformation is a reframing of narratives to cultivate political engagement around a common vision.

The second article, by Anya Schiffrin director of the Technology, Media and Communications specialization at Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs, summarizes a report she produced with her master’s students on the efforts of entrepreneurs to build technical solutions for identifying and countering misinformation. The report further explores the use AI to identify mis/disinformation and the evolving regulatory and market landscapes.

●  A Joke-Telling Lawyer: The Case of Simić v. Bosnia And Herzegovina. Global Freedom of Expression partner Natalie Alkiviadou has a Strasbourg Observers Blog on the recent Simić judgment which explores emerging European standards on humor and satire. Alkiviadou observes that the Court in Simić focused on the private nature of the speech in the courtroom to assess impact, whereas the Court has alternately established precedent protecting public satire critical of politicians. She closes by pondering whether the Court’s approach in Simić could extend to cases “involving the abstract, undefined notion of ‘hate speech’.”

Decisions this Week

European Court of Human Rights
Kosova and Apostolov v. North Macedonia
Decision Date: April 5, 2022
The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) found that North Macedonia violated the applicant’s freedom of expression by adopting court decisions contrary to Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).  The case concerned a civil defamation suit brought by a Mr. S., a former head of the Security and Counter-Intelligence Agency against the applicants, an editor-in-chief of a weekly magazine and a journalist. In two articles, the applicants relying on the statements of Mr. I., a former ambassador of North Macedonia to the Czech Republic, alleged that Mr. S. abused his power by pressuring the President of the respondent state and the minister of foreign affairs to not interfere with the resolution of Mr I.’s interest in a personal matter. The ECtHR found that the articles were of public interest capable of contributing to public debate. The Court decided that the factual allegations made in the articles were accounts reported by Mr. I. and did not emanate from the applicants. Further, the Government did not prove that Mr. S.’s right to reputation had been seriously affected. The ECtHR found that the applicants cannot be criticized for failing to ascertain the truth of the disputed allegations and the large amount of the awards of damages could have a chilling effect on the media in the performance of their task of encouraging open discussion on matters of public concern.Özgür Gündem v. Turkey
Decision Date: March 16, 2000
The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) concluded that the Turkish authorities failed to fulfill their positive obligation under Article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR) to protect the newspaper Özgür Gündem in its exercise of freedom of expression. Based on an assertion that the newspaper was aligned with the Workers’ Party of Kurdistan (PKK), a designated terrorist organization, the State imposed measures on the newspaper, such as a search-and-arrest operation and numerous prosecutions and convictions relating to the newspaper’s reporting. As a result of these sustained measures by the authorities, the newspaper ceased publication. The Court found that the newspaper’s link to the PKK was not a sufficient justification for failing to provide protection against unlawful acts and failing to provide an effective investigation on alleged violations of their rights. Hence, the Court ruled that the majority of the State’s actions were disproportionate, unjustified in the pursuit of any legitimate aim, and not necessary in a democratic society.

Russian Federation
The Case of Novaya Gazeta
Decision Date: May 19, 2021
A Russian Magistrates’ Court held that an independent Russian newspaper had violated the law by allowing dissemination of “knowingly unreliable socially significant information under the guise of reliable messages … posing a threat of mass violation of public order and public safety” during the period of mass protests in Moscow. After the newspaper had published an article about the training of “provocateurs” in Moscow, Roskomnadzor – the Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology, and Mass Media – requested that the article be removed from the online news site. Despite the newspaper complying, Roskomnadzor brought legal proceedings against the newspaper. The Court held that the removal of the article was irrelevant as the risk to public order had occurred with its publication, and so it had committed an administrative offense, and imposed a fine of 200 thousand rubles (around $2,700 USD at the time).

The Case of Vitaly Ruvinsky
Decision Date: August 3, 2020
The Magistrates’ Court No. 416 in the Presnensky District of Moscow, held that the editor-in-chief of a radio station’s website had allowed dissemination of “knowingly unreliable socially significant information” and imposed an administrative fine. The website had posted a transcript of an interview with a political scientist who had provided statistics on the Covid-19 cases and deaths in Russia which far exceeded the official count. Russia’s Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology, and Mass Media initiated proceedings against the website, and the editor was charged for disseminating knowingly unreliable socially significant information which posed a threat of harm to the life and health of citizens, and/or a threat of mass disruption of public order and safety. The Court found the editor guilty and imposed an administrative fine. The Appellate Court confirmed the lower court’s ruling.

United States
Cox. v. Twitter
Decision Date: February 8, 2019
The District Court for the District of South Carolina Division granted Twitter’s motion to dismiss an action filed by a Twitter user whose account was suspended after publishing a tweet criticizing Islam that allegedly violated the platform’s Hate Speech policy. The plaintiff, Mr. Cox, presented a pro se complaint seeking monetary damages and certain specified declaratory and/or injunctive relief for suspending his account. However, Twitter, in its motion to dismiss, argued the plaintiff’s failure to establish that he had suffered any damages as a result of any actions by the platform. In its decision, the Court determined that Twitter qualified for Section 230(c)(2)(A) of the Communications Decency Act (CDA) safe harbor since the platform conducted publishing activity. Thus, the Court determined Mr. Cox’s claims to hold Twitter liable for exercising its editorial judgment to suspend his account were barred under the CDA. 

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.

Training Manual on International and Comparative Media and Freedom of Expression Law
This manual by Media Defence was designed for trainers who are preparing workshops as well as lawyers with litigation experience. The 136 page manual includes a variety of training materials and presentations introducing standards on defamation, protection of sources, hate speech and incitement, privacy, and national security restrictions on free speech. The manual is also helpful as a stand-alone overview guide to standards on media and freedom of expression law. It covers international and comparative law, but references relevant national law standards for the countries under discussion.

Post Scriptum

● UN: Submission to Special Rapporteur on free expression and armed conflicts. ARTICLE 19 has submitted a response to the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression regarding her upcoming thematic report on challenges to freedom of opinion and expression in times of armed conflicts and other disturbances for the 77th session of the UN General Assembly. According to ARTICLE 19, their submission provides clarification on the legal regime applicable to issues of freedom of expression, disinformation and state propaganda during armed conflicts. They further express concern about undue restrictions on freedom of expression and information during armed conflicts and address the role of legacy media and social media in both curbing and spreading disinformation and propaganda in conflict scenarios.

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