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

● SAVE THE DATE: World Press Freedom Day Side Events May 1, 3, and 4, 2023. World Press Freedom Day 2023 marks 30 years since the UN General Assembly’s decision proclaiming an international day for press freedom. This anniversary edition of World Press Freedom Day will include a full day of activities at the UN Headquarters in New York on 2nd May, as well as numerous side events in New York and around the world centered on this year’s theme: “Shaping a Future of Rights – Freedom of expression as a driver for all other human rights.” Columbia Global Freedom of Expression is organizing eleven side events, in collaboration with partner organizations, including UNESCO, Meta’s Oversight Board, the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute, and the High Level Panel of Legal Experts on Media Freedom. Stay tuned for more details coming soon!

● Book Launch: How Data Happened: A History from the Age of Reason to the Age of Algorithms. The book, published this week by W.W. Norton, is a collaboration of Columbia University data scientist Chris Wiggins and historian Matthew Jones. Building on the course “Data: Past, Present, and Future” that they co-teach at Columbia University, Wiggins and Jones explore data’s technical, political, and ethical impact globally. They shed light on “the ways in which data has long been used as a tool and a weapon in arguing for what is true, as well as a means of rearranging or defending power.” To learn more from the authors themselves, listen to their conversation with Justin Hendrix on The Sunday Show podcast of Tech Policy Press.

● “Russia further tightens already repressive ‘fake news’ and ‘discreditation’ laws.” The International Press Institute reports on the latest legislation aimed at silencing independent media and opposition voices in Russia. In a final reading on March 15, Russia’s lower house of parliament expanded “the list of entities it will be illegal to ‘discredit’,” having included all Russian officials abroad and all military units that contribute to the Russian Armed Forces’ operations. Thus, the law could now punish any criticism of Wagner, a private military group fighting for Russia in Ukraine. The legislation also increases the maximum sentence “for ‘discrediting’ Russian officials or publishing ‘fake news’ about the war” from three to five prison years.

Decisions this Week

Guerra v. Ruiz-Navarro
Decision Date: December 12, 2022
The Constitutional Court of Colombia considered that journalists Catalina Ruiz-Navarro and Matilde de los Milagros Londoño did not breach the right to honor, good name, and presumption of innocence of movie director Ciro Guerra, by publishing an article in which eight women accused him of sexual harassment and sexual abuse, nor by providing further commentary about the article in subsequent interviews. Guerra lodged a constitutional action against the journalists seeking a retraction or the removal of the article from the internet. The Constitutional Court reviewed the case and considered that feminist journalism, escrache” (type of protest to expose perpetrators), and expression regarding gender-based violence, benefitted from special constitutional protection. Additionally, the Court considered that Ruiz Navarro and Londoño’s investigation was truthful and rigorous and discussed issues of public relevance and interest. Moreover, the Court also considered that in light of the power imbalance between the parties and Guerra’s disproportionate claims in several judicial and extrajudicial proceedings, there were elements of judicial harassment against the journalists.

Ram v. Union of India
Decision Date: May 20, 2021
The High Court of Madras in India quashed a batch of criminal defamation cases filed against journalists and media houses for defaming the Chief Minister in her conduct in the discharge of her public functions. The case was filed by the Public Prosecutor against the Petitioners who had published a series of articles in 2012 about the then Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa alleging maladministration, corruption and reporting on the opposition’s criticism of the Chief Minister. The High Court of Madras quashed all the cases and explained that public officials were subjected to a higher threshold of criticism by virtue of being in public office and that in all of the cases, there was no defamation against the State per se.

Navalakha v. Union of India
Decision Date: January 18, 2021
The Bombay High Court in India issued guidelines for television news channels when reporting on ongoing legal proceedings. The Court heard a batch of public interest petitions filed against television news channels for scandalous reporting in the aftermath of the death by suicide of the prominent Indian actor Sushant Singh Rajput. Rajput was found deceased in his apartment on June 14, 2020 and a criminal investigation had been initiated to ascertain the cause of death. The public interest petitions alleged that in the aftermath of Rajput’s death, some news channels carried out a media trial and this negatively affected the legal proceedings. The Court agreed with the Petitioners that the reporting had affected the right to a fair trial of the accused persons under Article 21 of the Constitution. It censured the news channels and laid down a series of guidelines to balance the freedom of the press under Article 19(1)(a) and the right to a fair trial under Article 21 when reporting on ongoing legal proceedings.

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.

Pakistan: Amicus Brief Challenging Criminal Defamation
This brief prepared by The Centre for Law and Democracy and the Institute for Research, Advocacy and Development was submitted to the Islamabad High Court in a case challenging Pakistan’s criminal defamation provisions. The brief “outlines international standards in this area, showing how criminal defamation and imprisonment for defamation have been addressed by international and regional human rights courts, as well as in authoritative statements by official actors. It also reviews countries which have either repealed their criminal defamation rules or had them struck down by courts. In addition to these arguments against criminal defamation in general, the brief also highlights a number of specific ways in which the Pakistani rules in this area fail to conform to international standards. These include by providing for a defence for statements about officials only where those statements were made in good faith, and limiting the defence of truth to cases where the statements were also ‘for the public good.”

Post Scriptum

● Osgoode Legal Studies Research Paper Forthcoming: Freedom of Expression and the Charter: 1982-2022, by Jamie Cameron. The paper consolidates the five-part blog series that Cameron wrote in 2022, on the 40th anniversary of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Initially published by the Centre for Free Expression at Toronto Metropolitan University, the blogs review the Supreme Court of Canada’s Section 2(b) jurisprudence. The series includes a comment on the Court’s 2021 decisions in City of Toronto v. Ontario and Ward v. Quebec, a quantitative and qualitative survey of the jurisprudence, and an analysis of s.2(b)’s building blocks. The blogs also address “newsgathering, open court, and freedom of the press and media” and s.2(b)’s future.

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