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.

● World Press Freedom Day Registration closing soon – Register Now! The theme of World Press Freedom Day 2023 is “Shaping a Future of Rights. Freedom of Expression as a driver for all other human rights.” The plenaries on May 2 at the UN General Assembly Hall will feature prominent human rights advocates, press freedom activists, media leaders and renowned journalists from all over the world. Check out the full programme of World Press Freedom Day’s 30th anniversary event on the website. With WPFD fast approaching, please be advised that registration for in-person participation at the UN-HQ closes on Tuesday, April 25 at midnight. Register here!

Columbia Global Freedom of Expression is organizing twelve side events, in collaboration with partner organizations, including UNESCO, Meta’s Oversight Board, the Thomson Reuters Foundation, ARTICLE 19, the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute, and the High Level Panel of Legal Experts on Media Freedom. View the agenda PDF here and register here. 

Not to Miss Next Week: 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.

●  Not to Miss Next Week: 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.

● New Special Collection Paper – How are courts responding to SLAPPS? Analysis of selected court decisions from across the globe. Columbia Global Freedom of Expression, in cooperation with ARTICLE 19, has published a Special Collection Paper examining judicial responses to strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPPs) in a small sample of cases around the world. It looks into whether courts recognise the danger posed by SLAPPs and whether and how they assess SLAPP cases. The paper is divided into three sections. First, we provide a brief overview of the concept of SLAPPs and why they are concerning from the perspective of freedom of expression and freedom of the media. Second, we try to deduct some key aspects of judicial responses to SLAPPs in jurisdictions without dedicated anti-SLAPP protection, determine whether these are adequate, and outline what underlying issues need to be addressed to eliminate the problem of SLAPPs. Finally, we offer a conclusion that provides some initial recommendations on how the good practices of courts and existing gaps should be addressed based on international freedom of expression standards.

Join us for the official paper launch on May 4 from 2:00 – 3:30 pm ET as part of the World Press Freedom Day Side Events! Speakers include Barbora Bukovska, Senior Director for Law and Policy, ARTICLE 19; Mehdi Benchelah, Senior Project Officer, Freedom of Expression and Safety of Journalists, UNESCO; and Ginna Anderson, Associate Director, American Bar Association Center for Human Rights; Deputy Director, Justice Defenders Program. More information and register here.

Decisions this Week

Inter-American Court of Human Rights
Moya Chacón v. Costa Rica
Decision Date: September 6, 2022
Inter-American Court of Human Rights found the State of Costa Rica responsible for violating the right to freedom of expression of two journalists, resulting from the imposition of a civil sanction on the journalist for disseminating inaccurate information. The case arose after the journalists Ronald Moya Chacón and Freddy Parrales Chaves published an article in La Nación, a Costa Rican newspaper, reporting how a regional supervisor of the police force allegedly failed to intercept a vehicle containing smuggled liquor – information later proven to be false. In its decision, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights held that the civil penalty imposed on Moya Chacón and Parrales Chaves was neither necessary nor proportional to the legitimate aim pursued and contravened Articles 13(1) and 13(2) of the American Convention. Particularly, the Court noted that for investigative journalism to flourish in a democratic society, it is necessary to leave journalists “room for error” since, without it, there would be no margin for independent journalism and, thus, no possibility of democratic scrutiny that comes from it. Moreover, the Court highlighted that States should exercise the utmost caution in imposing reparations so that they do not dissuade the press from participating in discussions of matters of public interest.

United Kingdom
FGX v. Gaunt
Decision Date: February 27, 2023
The High Court of Justice Kings’ Bench Division found that the claimant was entitled to general and special damages relating to the dissemination of non-consensual pornography. After the claimant discovered naked images of her had been published on  a pornographic website, alongside a photograph of her face, the claimant  sought damages for nine heads of loss which included pain, suffering, and loss of amenities, treatment costs, future treatment costs, and the cost of removing images from the internet. The court ruled that the claimant was entitled to general and special damages since the defendant’s conduct had a serious impact on the claimant’s private life and lifestyle as she had lost trust in people and became reclusive, to the extent of changing her job and refraining from personal relationships; she suffered from mixed anxiety and depressive disorder and also post-traumatic stress disorder. The Court likened the violation of her personal dignity and autonomy to that of sexual assault, even though the harm was from images rather than physical violence. The court awarded general damages of £60,000 and special damages of £37,041.61 for consequential financial losses, making a total of £97,041.61.

United States
Lafferty v. Jones
Decision Date: November 10, 2022
The Connecticut Superior Court awarded the sum of $10 million in punitive damages to each of the fifteen plaintiffs. The plaintiffs, in this case, were either a parent of a student or a close relative of a school employee who died in the Sandy Hook school shooting incident that occurred on December 13, 2012. The plaintiffs filed a suit against Mr. Alex Emric Jones, a radio and internet personality, for alleging that the Sandy Hook shooting was a hoax on his radio show and website, among others.  The plaintiffs asserted that Jones had developed a “very lucrative business model” pedaling “conspiracy-minded falsehoods like those about Sandy Hook” for immense monetary gain. The court ruled that the actions of the defendants were motivated by profit and “their conduct was intentional, malicious, and certain to cause harm by virtue of their infrastructure, ability to spread content, and massive audience.”

Dumpson v. Ade
Decision Date: August 9, 2019
The United States District Court for the District of Columbia found that the plaintiff had met the burden for satisfying the claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress, awarded damages along with passing a restraining order against the defendants who operate the neo-Nazi website the Daily Stormer. In the instant case, after Ms. Taylor Dumpson was elected as the first female, African-American student government president at American University (AU), a masked man hung nooses with bananas inscribed with phrases such as “AKA Free” and “Harambe bait”. Soon after, Mr. Andrew Anglin posted a racist article about Ms. Dumpson on his website and directed his followers to “troll storm” Ms. Dumpson, in which Mr. Brian Andrew Ade participated. The court ruled that the defendants targeted the plaintiff because of her race and gender, due to which the plaintiff felt unsafe and her access AU’s campus and its resources, was impacted. This infringed on her right to enjoy public accommodation guaranteed under the District of Columbia Human Rights Act of 1977. The court further noted that the plaintiff suffered severe emotional distress due to defendants conduct which went beyond “mere insults” or “inconsiderate and unkind” behaviour and therefore, they were liable to pay compensation to the plaintiff. An amount of $101,429.28 as compensatory damages, $500,000 as punitive damages, and $124,022.10 as attorneys’ fees to the plaintiff was awarded in relation to online harassment perpetrated by the defendants.

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 Crime of Sedition: At the Crossroads of Reform and Resurgence
Abstract: This report has been supported by the TrialWatch program at the Columbia Law School Human Rights Institute. TrialWatch is an initiative by the Clooney Foundation for Justice which advocates for justice through accountability for human rights abuses around the world. This report looks at the movement to change sedition laws, the reasons for such change and the abuses that continue where changes are attempted. The report is in three parts: a brief overview of the sedition laws at their criticisms faced at different levels; an update on the progress made by the Commonwealth States to reform these laws and lastly, an overview of examples where prosecuted have used sedition laws to stifle dissent, including case studies by TrialWatch’s monitoring.

Post Scriptum

● The Technosolutionism Trap: The Risky Use of Tech by the Colombian Judiciary, by Maia Levy Daniel. The article, published by Tech Policy Press, focuses on the use of technology – artificial intelligence and virtual reality in particular – by the judiciary. Turning to two recent Colombian court cases in which the judges used ChatGPT and the metaverse, Maia Levy Daniel asks, “Why did the use of technology seem necessary in these cases in the first place?” She unpacks the risks that AI and immersive technology might carry into judicial processes and calls for explicit guidelines to determine “in which cases technologies can be used and for what specific purposes.”

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