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.

● 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. Preview the agenda here!

●  Upcoming Event: UNESCO’s World Press Freedom Day 2023 Online Academic Conference. As part of UNESCO’s World Press Freedom Day 2023, an online academic conference will take place on April 27, 2023. The academic conference focuses on freedom of expression as a driver for other human rights, linking to UNESCO’s overall theme for World Press Freedom Day 2023. Academia has played an important role in World Press Freedom Day by hosting an academic conference that provides a forum to hear from scholars who research constraints on media freedom in all their complexity. Organised jointly by Columbia Global Freedom of Expression, University of Liverpool, University of Sheffield and Worlds of Journalism Study. Join the online event on April 27, 2023, from 09:00-15:00 UK Time. Register here.

Community Highlights and Recent News

● Upcoming Event: Webinar on Freedom of Expression and Privacy on Social Media. The Future of Free Speech hosts a morning seminar that will examine the impact of social media on freedom of expression and privacy, along with the legal implications of their intersection. The speaker panel will include Senior Legal Fellow at The Future of Free Speech Joan Barata, Professor Gavin Phillipson, Professor Giovanni De Gregorio, and Professor Oreste Pollicino. The webinar will also present Joan Barata’s upcoming paper on the matter. Join the online event on April 21, 2023, from 9:00 to 10:30 am (CEST). Register here.

● Upcoming Event: A Conversation on Disinformation and Democracy. Join Global Freedom of Expression and the University of Alabama School of Law for a workshop featuring contributors to a forthcoming volume on the regulation of misinformation and disinformation in comparative perspective. There is broad agreement that disinformation, misinformation, threatens to distort the democratic process. But there is no consensus as to the best response — should states affirmatively prohibit the spread of certain kinds of mis- or dis-information? If so, how, and how much? Does self-regulation by traditional and social media work? And what is the role for non-governmental organizations? Participants in this conference take on those important questions from a US and comparative perspective. The conference will consist of three panels. Participants in Panel 1 will frame the problem and discuss approaches to the direct regulation of dis- or mis-information. Panel 2 will focus on dis- and mis-information in social and traditional media. And Panel 3 will add NGOs to the mix, discussing their role in checking the proliferation of dis- and mis-information or in inoculating its audience. Hybrid event on April 27, 2023, from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm ET. Register here.

● Canada – Submission to Session 44 of the Universal Periodic Review on the Right to Information. The Centre for Law and Democracy, the Centre for Free Expression, the Canadian Institute for Information and Privacy Studies, and Democracy Watch made a Submission to the Universal Periodic Review on the Right to Information in Canada – a process supervised by the United Nations Human Rights Council. In its seven sections, the Submission focuses on “problems with Canada’s right to information regime, from the many public authorities, which are not covered by it, to procedural problems, in particular leading to delays in responding to requests, to the significantly overbroad regime of exceptions.” The Submission calls for a reform of the access to information system in Canada

Decisions this Week

Neetu Singh v. Telegram
Decision Date: August 30, 2022
The High Court of Delhi ordered the disclosure of personal data of individuals who were circulating infringing material, finding that their identities were not protected by the right to privacy on the ground that they were undertaking illegal activities. The Plaintiffs filed the suit to prevent the violation of their intellectual property rights after the original infringing material was taken down, but fresh versions of it were posted on newly created channels. Hence, the Plaintiffs sought information relating to the identities of  the individuals involved in the continued spread/sharing of the infringing materialTelegram argued that disclosing the identities of the posters would result in violations of the fundamental right to life and personal liberty, and freedom of expression as envisaged in the Indian Constitution. The Court was of the opinion that these rights cannot prevent an infringer from facing the consequences of illegal actions. The Court finally directed Telegram to disclose all the details including mobile numbers, IP addresses, email addresses, etc. of the channels/devices which were involved in spread of the infringing content to the court in a sealed cover.

Rashmi Srivastava v. State of Uttar Pradesh
Decision Date: July 18, 2022
The Allahabad High Court of the state of Uttar Pradesh in India held that the right to change one’s name is a facet of the fundamental right to freedom of expression guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India. In the present case, Rajni Shrivastava wanted to change her name to Rashmi Srivastava. With this intention, she published the same in the newspapers Dainik Jagran and Hindustan Times as well as in the Gazette of India. Subsequently, the petitioner also successfully moved appropriate applications to the Aadhar authorities and the Ministry of Finance for changing her name in the Aadhar Card and the Permanent Account Number (PAN) Card. However, her name change application was rejected by her old school authorities and the University administration. The Court overturned the educational authorities’ decisions because, in its view, denying the petitioner’s request to alter her name manifestly infringed her rights as granted by Article 19(1)(a) of the Indian Constitution.

The Case on Calling the Singer Xavier Naidoo an “anti-Semite”
Decision Date: November 11, 2021
The Federal Constitutional Court of Germany held that judgments of lower courts which prohibited a public speaker from calling a German singer an “anti-Semite” were unconstitutional and violated the right to freedom of expression. During a public lecture, an expert speaker referred to a well-known German singer as an “anti-Semite”. Both the Court of First Instance and the Court of Appeal found that the singer’s general right of personality outweighed the speaker’s right to freedom of expression as the designation as an “anti-Semite” was a significant encroachment on his personality. The speaker filed a constitutional complaint before the Federal Constitutional Court, arguing her right to freedom of expression had been infringed. The Constitutional Court found that the lower courts had not applied to correct standards in assessing the meaning of the statement and chose a far-fetched interpretation. It also noted that the lower courts had wrongly required the speaker to prove her statement’s factual content and failed to recognize the significance and scope of the freedom of expression in the public battle of opinions. The Constitutional Court set aside the judgments of the lower courts and remanded the decision to the court of first instance for a new decision in accordance with its ruling.

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.

The Global Principles on National Security and the Right to Information (Tshwane Principles)
The Global Principles on National Security and the Right to Information were developed in order to provide guidance to those engaged in drafting, revising, or implementing laws or provisions relating to the state’s authority to withhold information on national security grounds or to punish the disclosure of such information. They are based on international (including regional) and national law, standards, good practices, and the writings of experts. They address national security—rather than all grounds for withholding information. All other public grounds for restricting access should at least meet these standards. These Principles were drafted by 22 organizations and academic centres (listed in the Annex) in consultation with more than 500 experts from more than 70 countries at 14 meetings held around the world, facilitated by the Open Society Justice Initiative. This process culminated in a meeting in Tshwane, South Africa, which gives them their name.

Post Scriptum

● Is Big Tech Biased Against Conservatives? Evidence from Search Algorithms Says No. The article by Efrat Nechushtai, Rodrigo Zamith, and Seth C. Lewis for Columbia Journalism Review unpacks their study of what news recommendation algorithms offer on such major platforms as Facebook, Google Search, Google News, Twitter, and YouTube. The study is based on the search results of “1,598 ideologically, geographically, and demographically diverse U.S. participants,” who provided 28,475 valid links for analysis. The study’s findings contradict concerns about Big Tech’s “filter bubbles,” as the collected search results surfaced a concentrated and “homogenized exposure to information,” rather than a fragmented and polarizing one. Conservative sources, including Fox News, appeared consistently in the search results studied.

● The Laws Were Supposed to Attack ‘Fake News.’ Now They Are Jailing Journalists: How governments in West Africa scapegoat critical coverage with ‘fake news’ laws. This op-ed by Kwaku Krobea Asante for Poynter in commemoration of International Fact-Checking Day explores cybersecurity and press regulation laws abused by those in power in West Africa. Turning to, among others, Benin’s “digital code,” Nigeria’s Cybercrime Act, and Senegal’s Press Code, the author argues the laws designed to target false information are used to undermine freedom of expression in the subregion. Kwaku Krobea Asante writes journalists and fact-checkers face a double challenge: they “have to deal with the problem of fighting ‘fake news,’ mainly propagated by politicians and their agents, and avoid being jailed by fake news laws passed by the same politicians.”

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