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: “Regulating the Online Public Sphere: From Decentralized Networks to Public Regulation”. Join Global Freedom of Expression, the Future of Free Speech and Justitia for a two-day conference bringing together stakeholders from the technology industry, civil society and academia to facilitate the exchange of experiences between key actors regarding emerging decentralized networks, existing norms and standards (hard and soft law) in the field, and the implications for Human Rights. On the first day, speakers will discuss new models of decentralized networks and, on the second day, the different regional approaches to public and private regulation of content moderation on the Internet. October 3 & 4, 2022. Learn more and register here. The conference will also be livestreamed on the GFoE YouTube channel.
● Upcoming Event: Laughing Matters? Humor and Free Speech in the Digital Age. Join Global Freedom of Expression, Temple Law School, and the University of Groningen for a symposium sponsored by the Dutch Research Council to explore the legal boundaries of humor and free speech in the digital age. The day-long event will showcase interdisciplinary collaboration between practicing lawyers, legal scholars and humanities-oriented humor researchers who are working to map the juridical handling of humor across different regions. Aiming to set a foundation for further collaboration, this symposium will feature a series of short presentations on current issues and ongoing projects, followed by an open Q&A at the end of each panel. October 14, 2022. More information and register here.
● Upcoming Event: The Far Right and the Law. Global Freedom of Expression partner Natalie Alkiviadou of Justitia and the Future of Free Speech is presenting a webinar on the far-right and the law. Hosted by the Department of Law at the University of Cyprus, Dr. Alkiviadou will discuss current legal standards relating to hate speech, hate crimes, free speech and free association. September 14, 2022 11:00 AM ET. Register here.
● UNESCO Massive Open Online Course: Information and Elections in the Digital Era.
UNESCO, UNDP and the Knight Center for Journalism are launching a free, five-week online course which will run from the weeks of September 19 until October 23, 2022, and will be available in English, French, Spanish and Portuguese. This course is aimed at electoral practitioners and key electoral stakeholders, including electoral management bodies (EMBs), audiovisual regulatory bodies (ARBs), human rights and women rights civil society organization (CSOs), national and international electoral observers, political actors, academia and fact-checking organizations. It is also directed at media workers, media representatives and journalists, including community media and citizen journalists. There is no limit as to the number of participants and there are no pre-requisites to participate. Register in English; French; Spanish; and Portuguese.
● UNESCO Massive Open Online Course: Access to Information Laws and Policies and their Implementation. UNESCO and the Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD) have launched a massive open online course about the right of access to information. The course is free for everyone and provides official certification upon completion. Taking just six hours to complete, this course is an excellent opportunity for all those who have an appetite to increase or reinforce their knowledge on the right of access to information (ATI), including public officials, journalists, civil society, students, and any other person interested on this fundamental right. Enroll here.
Decisions this Week
RT France v. Council of the European Union
Decision Date: July 27, 2022
The General Court of the European Union found that the ban on RT France in the EU did not violate the right to freedom of expression and media freedom, under Article 11 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. The ban was imposed by the Council of the European Union as part of restrictive measures against Russia for invading Ukraine, and to prevent the dissemination of Russian state propaganda in support of the aggression. Several days after the ban, the media outlet instituted the proceedings against the Council. The Court found that the restriction on freedom of expression was provided by law, and pursued the legitimate aim of protecting public order. In assessing the necessity and proportionality of the ban, the Court reasoned that the essence of the right was not impaired since the outlet could conduct other journalistic activities such as research and interviews and it was free to broadcast outside the Union. The Court stressed that the ban was temporary, for six-months only, yet just a day before the decision was rendered, the ban was extended for another six months. In addition, the Court emphasized that the EU organ enjoys a broad discretion in imposing restrictive measure in the sphere of EU foreign policy and the Court opined that the less restrictive measures would not be effective. Thus, no violation of RT’s freedom of expression was found and, subsequently, there was no violation of the public’s right to receive information.Russian Federation
The Case of Idrak Mirzalizade
Decision Date: February 14, 2022
The Supreme Court of Russia upheld orders from lower courts and found a standup comedian, guilty of inciting national hatred. The comedian had been sentenced to ten-days’ administrative arrest by the Tagansky Court of Moscow which had found that the statements he had made during one of his standup shows had incited hatred and enmity toward individuals of Russian nationality. The comedian had maintained that the questions had been taken out of context and had sought to ridicule xenophobia. The Court held that the Russian constitutional and legal framework permitted prohibition of speech that incited hatred, and that the lower courts had correctly adjudged the evidence in finding that the comedian had committed the administrative offense.The Case of Anton Nossik
Decision Date: June 27, 2017
The Russian Constitutional Court upheld the legislative provision which criminalized incitement of hatred and/or enmity and imposed criminal sanctions. A blogger and media manager had filed a constitutional complaint after he had been found guilty under the provision and sentenced to a fine which was adjusted to 300 thousand rubles (around US$4.9 thousand at the time) on appeal. The blogger argued that the law restricted the rights of citizens, infringing the constitutional right to freedom of thought and speech and imposing a disproportionate sanction of up to six years of imprisonment. The Court stressed that the right to freedom of thought and speech is not absolute, and can be limited and, with reference to international law, held that the provision did not violate any constitutional provision.
The Case of Alekseev, Baev, and Fedotova
Decision Date: January 19, 2010
The Russian Constitutional Court held that the provisions of Ryazan regional laws, which prohibited “homosexuality propaganda” among minors and imposed administrative liability for it, were permissible. Three Russian LGBTQ activists filed a constitutional complaint after the Ryazan City Administration had rejected their request to organize a Pride Parade event and after two of the activists had been detained and fined for displaying posters with the statements “Homosexuality is normal” and “I am proud of my homosexuality” near a secondary school. The activists argued that the law provisions were discriminatory and infringed the constitutional right to freedom of thought and speech. The Court held that the provisions acted in protection of “the intellectual, moral, and mental safety” of children, as “homosexuality propaganda” could harm children’s “health, moral and spiritual development” and “distort their ideas about the social equivalence of traditional and non-traditional marital relations.” The Court concluded the laws did not disproportionately restrict freedom of speech.
European Court of Human Rights
Éditions Plon v. France
Decision Date: May 18, 2004
The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) found that France violated Article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights when its domestic courts banned indefinitely the book Le Grand Secret published by Éditions Plon. The book was coauthored by Dr. Gubler, a private physician to then President François Mitterrand, and gave a detailed account of the President’s illness, and subsequent treatment. The book was published shortly after the death of Mitterrand. Upon request from Mitterrand’s heirs, national French Courts banned the book indefinitely arguing that it breached medical confidentiality. For the ECtHR an indefinite ban on the book was a disproportionate measure not necessary in a democratic society.
Flinkkilä v. Finland
Decision Date: July 6, 2010
The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) found that the State of Finland violated Article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights when it’s national courts ordered the editors and journalists of two magazines to pay fines and damages in the context of criminal proceedings, for publishing news articles mentioning the name and identity of B., the female friend of a well-known public official, and their involvement in a violent altercation. The national courts considered that these articles were an unjustified invasion of B.’s privacy. However, the ECtHR found that the interference with the applicants’ freedom of expression was not necessary in a democratic society, since B.’s identity had publicly been disclosed previously on national television, and the articles in question were of public interest. Hence, the sanctions imposed on the applicants were disproportionately severe.
Teaching 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 Digital Rights and Freedom of Expression Online
This training manual by Media Defence highlights some key developments that have taken place or are currently being explored, both at an international and a national level. It is aimed at providing guidance for training purposes and in litigation and can be a helpful resource to anyone interested in media freedom, particularly in Africa.
● “A Nefarious and Hidden Threat to Journalists Rises,” by Joel Simon and Carlos Lauria in the Columbia Journalism Review discusses the increase of Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation globally as a leading transnational threat. They observe that while the “suits generally involve private actors, governments have also appropriated the most common strategies.” The problem manifests differently depending on the context, but such suits constitute a form of legal harassment with substantial chilling effects on freedom of expression.
● Making Big Tech Pay for the News They Use, a new report launched by the Center for International Media Assistance and authored by Courtney C. Radsch “analyzes the evidence and justification for proposals that would tax digital advertising, compel Big Tech to negotiate with publishers over content usage, or require platforms to pay licensing fees for using news content. Radsch considers the implications of these policies on news media in developing and low-income countries and stresses the importance of a coordinated, global approach to this push for improved media sustainability.” The Brooking Institute blog TechTank also published a piece by Radsch on these issues, “Frenemies: Global approaches to rebalance the Big Tech v journalism relationship.”
This newsletter is reproduced with the permission of Global Freedom of Expression. For an archive of previous newsletters, see here.
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