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

● A New Paradigm for Global Journalism: Press Freedom and Public Interest. Joel Simon, founding director of the Journalism Protection Initiative at the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism, and the former executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists, has issued a new report arguing that the public interest aspect of press freedom must be strengthened within the international framework. According to Simon, “[l]inking press freedom and public interest allows for the protection of press freedom based not only on the individual right to free expression but also on the collective social benefit derived from independent journalism. A public interest framework has the potential to unite the different sectors that are seeking to positively influence the global information space – groups engaged in free expression advocacy, the media development community, democratic governments and the tech platforms. Creating a global information system that serves the public interest is the best available articulation of their shared goals.”

● International human rights lawyer Amal Clooney to receive an honorary doctorate from the University of Leuven. Clooney, a leading UK barrister and Adjunct Professor of Law at Columbia Law School, has argued cases before the International Criminal Court, the International Court of Justice and the European Court of Human Rights. In 2016, she and her husband founded the Clooney Foundation for Justice to gather “evidence of mass human rights abuses, provide free legal support to victims and work to ensure that perpetrators are held to account.” The University of Leuven wants “to honour Mrs Clooney for her work and commitment as an academic, advocate and leading human rights activist who champions humanitarian causes worldwide and fights some of the world’s most troubling human rights violations.”

●  Foreign agent law to be submitted to Georgian Parliament. OC Media reports that “a bill that would label media and civil society organisations that receive money from abroad ‘agents of foreign influence’ is to be submitted to the Georgian parliament, leading to fears of a crackdown similar to that in Russia. The bill is being submitted by People’s Power, a group of pro-government MPs who formally left the ruling Georgian Dream party — with the party’s support — to ‘speak openly’ about a supposed Western conspiracy to drag Georgia into war with Russia. Announcing the move on Tuesday, the group stated that the draft was based on ‘the principles of openness and transparency’. The draft law is similar to the foreign agent law first adopted by Russia in 2012; legislation that has been widely used to stifle media freedom and dissent. Critics have warned it could lead to similar repressions in Georgia, with MEP Andreus Kubilus telling OC Media its adoption would jeopardise the country’s bid for EU membership.”

Decisions this Week

State Defense Council v. Transparency Council
Decision Date: March 11, 2022
The Sixth Chamber of the Court of Appeals of Santiago de Chile upheld a decision ordering the Chilean Navy to deliver information regarding the qualifications and curriculum vitae of former Navy Chief Commander Jorge Patricio Arancibia Reyes. Access to the information—requested by a citizen—was denied by the Chilean Navy which claimed that the officer’s résumé contained classified data that posed a risk to national security and would breach his privacy. The Transparency Council ordered the Chilean Navy to provide the requested information, after redacting the personal data included. The State Defense Council challenged this decision before the Court of Appeals of Santiago. Upon reviewing the case, the Court concluded that the résumés of public servants are not classified—on the contrary such information is public and its dissemination is necessary to exercise oversight—as long as the personal information therein is redacted prior to its release to the public. Therefore, it dismissed the claims of the State Defense Council and upheld the disclosure of these documents.

Medical Association of Chile (A.G.) v. Undersecretary of Public Health of Chile
Decision Date: August 31, 2021
The Transparency Council of Chile ordered the Undersecretary of Public Health of Chile to deliver all the records in its possession regarding the list of attendees at the work meetings of the “COVID Table”—a scientific and consulting body whose mission was to discuss and implement measures, strategies, regulations, and public policies against Covid-19—, including the matters there discussed, the agreements adopted, and their criteria. The Medical Association of Chile (A.G.) lodged an access to information request to the Undersecretary of Public Health, requiring the aforementioned information about the “Covid Table.” The Undersecretary replied to the request by stating that the “COVID Table” did not officially exist and therefore could not provide the information. The Transparency Council held that the required information was of public interest since it was about the work carried out by a scientific and technical advisory body that performed public functions, as its main purpose was to discuss and coordinate public policies and regulations against the Covid-19 pandemic. Therefore, it ordered the delivery of all the information requested by the Medical Association of Chile.

Civil Association for Equality and Justice v. Telefónica De Argentina S.A. (Second Instance)
Decision Date: December 2, 2021
The Federal Administrative Chamber of Argentina upheld a lower court ruling ordering Telefónica de Argentina—a phone company—to deliver information regarding the provision of fixed telephony and internet service in slums and settlements in Buenos Aires, Argentina. On appeal, TASA argued that it was a private company and that the internet service was not a public service and therefore it was not obliged to provide such information. The Chamber upheld the lower court decision reasoning that the internet service was a public service and that private institutions that provide public services are obligated to properly answer access to information requests.

Petitioner v. Secretariat for Labor and Social Welfare
Decision Date: February 10, 2021
The National Institute of Transparency, Access to Information and Protection of Personal Data (INAI) of Mexico ordered the Secretariat for Labor and Social Welfare to deliver all the information requested regarding the labor policy for people with disabilities, their respective social programs, and annual budgets, during the six-year terms of former presidents Vicente Fox Quesada, Felipe Calderón Hinojosa, and Enrique Peña Nieto. A Mexican citizen, with multiple visual and motor disabilities, requested the aforementioned information from the Secretariat, in Word and MP3 (audio) formats. The authority delivered the information partially—the data did not cover all the required periods and excluded the information on annual budgets—in Word and PDF formats. The citizen filed a complaint before the INAI arguing that the Secretariat’s response breached their right of access to information. The INAI concluded that the Secretariat failed to deliver all the requested information without providing any valid justification for denying the missing data. Likewise, the INAI held that the Secretariat failed to make the reasonable adjustments required by the petitioner by not providing the information in MP3 format, thus breaching their right of access to information.

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.

Tackling gender inequality through access to information
ARTICLE 19 published a briefing on the role access to information plays in achieving women’s empowerment and tackling gender inequality, providing recommendations for governments and civil society. The briefing observes that “[a]n access to information approach to gender equality and women’s empowerment means ensuring women are able to access information to make informed choices on elements of their lives, push their governments and other power-holders to guarantee their rights, have greater agency and control over their lives, and more meaningfully engage in public life.”

Post Scriptum

● Free to Create: Report on Artistic Freedom in Europe. A new report entitled Free to Create: Artistic Freedom in Europe examines the challenges European artists and cultural workers face in the practice of their right to freedom of artistic expression. These range from laws that curtail creative freedom, attacks from non-governmental groups and online threats to the “under-the-radar” pressures that contribute to self-censorship. Artistic freedom is a core human right requiring protection and it has worsened recently under multiple challenges – political extremism, economic collapse, a global pandemic, threats from digitisation, an emerging environmental catastrophe, and the return of war within Europe – all crises with major impacts on human rights across society.

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