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 & Recent News

● Humor and Free Speech: A Comparative Analysis of Global Case Law. November 13, 2023. Join the upcoming online seminar on Humor and Free Speech in Brazil and globally. The event’s speakers – Alberto Godioli, Professor at the University of Groningen, and Tom Alexandre Brandão-PhD, Judge of São Paulo Court of Justice – will discuss how the Brazilian courts and courts around the world analyze humor discourse when it collides with other protected rights. The webinar will identify the main criteria courts have invoked in a set of five cluster cases/issues relating to 1) satire, defamation, and other dignitary harms; 2) disparaging humor and hate speech; 3) humor, violence, and public unrest; 4) parody, copyright, and trademarks; 5) humor and “public morals.” The panelists will also discuss how the use of the Internet as a vehicle for humor discourse shapes the judicial understanding of it. The webinar is part of the Online Course on the Internet and Freedom of Expression, hosted by the São Paulo School of Judges in cooperation with Columbia Global Freedom of Expression. The event will be in English and Portuguese with simultaneous interpretation. November 13, 2023. 8-10:00am ET (New York) / 10-12:00pm BRT (São Paulo). Register to attend (find registration instructions here).

●  Upcoming Event – Press Freedom: a Gender Issue.November 29, 2023. Columbia Global Freedom of Expression and the Foundation for Press Freedom are hosting a webinar on Press Freedom and Gender as part of their online seminar series on Freedom of Expression in Latin America. The cases of Jineth Bedoya Lima, Vicky Hernández, and Daphne Caruana highlight the need to strengthen a differential approach in tackling violence against journalists – one of the most extreme forms of censorship. The webinar will serve as a space to explain the current problem and the legal solutions that have been proposed to address it. The online event is open to the public and welcomes journalists, the academic community, members of the judiciary, and anyone interested in understanding and promoting freedom of expression in Latin America. November 29, 2023. 2-3:30pm COT (Bogotá) / ET (New York). The conversation will be in Spanish. Register here.

●  CALL FOR PAPERS – Internet Fragmentation and Censorship. Are We Heading to Splinternet and Cyber Sovereignty?Eötvös Loránd University (ELTE) Faculty of Law, in cooperation with the University of Bucharest Faculty of Law and the University of Zenica Faculty of Law, is organizing the International Scientific Conference, which will take place on March 22-23, 2024, in Budapest, Hungary. In light of states’ increasingly frequent restrictions on the Internet, the conference will focus on “governmental and other policies and actions that constrain or prevent certain uses of the Internet to create, distribute, or access information resources.” The conference organizers are inviting submissions on topics about Internet shutdowns and Splinternet; they may include (but are not limited to) “Internet shutdowns around the world,” “Internet censorship,” “Internet governance and legislation: questions of the Splinternet,” “Filtering and blocking websites by governments,” “Legal and illegal reasons for content restrictions,” “Options for resistance to restrictions,” and many others. The deadline for abstract submissions is December 15, 2023. Learn more here.

●  Let the Courts Decide: Civil Society Takes on EU’s Dangerous Terrorist Content Regulation.On November 8, 2023, the coalition of civil society organizations including Access Now, ARTICLE 19, European Center for Not-for-Profit Law, European Digital Rights, Wikimedia France, and La Quadrature du Net filed a joint complaint before the Conseil d’État, the supreme administrative court in France, “against the French decree implementing the EU regulation on addressing the dissemination of terrorist content online (TERREG).” The civil society organizations argue the TERREG is incompatible with the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights because it poses threats to freedom of expression and information access rights, “As it stands, the TERREG provides scope for any EU country to order a website, social media platform, or online service provider to block user-content alleged to be of terrorist nature within one hour.” The coalition urges the Conseil d’État to request a preliminary ruling from the CJEU.

Decisions this Week

European Court of Human Rights
Ikotity and Others v. Hungary
Decision Date: October 5, 2023
The Chamber of the First Section of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) rendered an unanimous judgment finding no violation of Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) in the case of the applicants who were sanctioned for using posters unlawfully during a parliamentary debate. The case concerned the members of an opposition political party in Hungary who requested permission to use posters during an interpellation by their parliamentary group, addressed to the government concerning its development plans for Budapest. Despite the permission being denied, the Applicant used the posters during the debate which led to their sanction by the Speaker of the Hungarian Parliament. The ECtHR found that the procedure on eventual granting the use of posters and the procedure on sanctioning the applicants were not arbitrary. In addition, the court believed that the sanctions were necessary and proportionate since they concerned a manner in which a speech was to be delivered and not the content of the speech. Moreover, states enjoy a wide margin of appreciation in regulating order in parliaments. Thereby, there was no violation of freedom of speech.

The Inter-American Commission of Human Rights
Yoani Sánchez v. Cuba
Decision Date: October 30, 2021
The Inter-American Commission of Human Rights (IACHR) held Cuba responsible for the human rights violations suffered by Ms Yoani María Sánchez Cordero, a well-known journalist, and blogger critical of the Cuban government, which included arbitrary detentions, smear campaigns, illegal tapping, web blocking, among others. Ms Yoani Sanchez filed a petition against Cuba on 28 September 2012, claiming that the Cuban government had blocked her blog “Generación Y” and that she had been subjected to detentions, assaults, obstacles to leaving the country, telephone tapping, intimidation, threats, and smear campaigns by the Cuban government for several years. For its part, Cuba did not present any arguments or respond to the IACHR’s requests in this case. The IACHR maintained that there is a structural pattern of persecution, censorship, and violence against opposition journalists in Cuba. It also considered that the Cuban constitutional legal framework violates the right to freedom of expression, enshrined in the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, by making the free dissemination of ideas subject to the objectives of the socialist state. The IACHR concluded that Cuba had violated the rights recognized in articles I (right to life, liberty, security, and personal security), II (right to equality before the law), IV (right to freedom of investigation, opinion, expression and dissemination), V (right to protection of honor, personal reputation and private and family life), VIII (right to residence and movement), X (right to the inviolability and transmission of correspondence), XVIII (right to fair trial), XXI (right of assembly), XXIV (right of petition), XXV (right of protection from arbitrary arrest) and XXVI (right to due process of law) of the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man. Finally, the IACHR ordered full reparation in favor of the petitioner and non-repetition guarantees to prevent future human rights violations against Yoani Sánchez and other journalists critical of the Cuban government.

Pollo v. Balla
Decision Date: May 12, 2021
The Albanian Court of Appeals held that a statement made by a member of parliament was not defamatory of a government minister. In a parliamentary session, the parliamentarian had accused the minister of bribery, which was then reported on by the national media. The minister sued the parliamentarian for defamation and a district court found in his favor. The Court of Appeals reversed the lower court’s decision, finding that the parliamentarian’s statements were protected by freedom of expression and that there had been no damage to the minister’s reputation.

The case of the mayoral candidate for Győr’s Facebook video
Decision Date: October 17, 2019
The Hungarian Constitutional Court held that that a statement by one mayoral candidate about another was protected speech. After the candidate from the governing party uploaded a Facebook video critical of their political opponent, the opponent and his own party filed a complaint with the local electoral commission. The commission held that the statements were political opinions and not fact. The regional electoral commission and the city’s Court of Appeal upheld the local electoral commission’s decision. The Constitutional Court stressed that single sentences must be read within the context of the entire text, and that a statement’s meaning must be determined by examining what the electorate would understand by it. The Court held that the candidate’s statement as a whole represented political opinion about their opponent’s political approach and experience.

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.

Freedom in the World 2023

Freedom House’s 2023 Freedom of the World Report found that more countries registered declines (35), than those registering improvements (34) marking a turning point in a17-year trend. Contributing factors include the ongoing conflict in Ukraine and authoritarian pressures in a range of countries from Peru to Burkina Faso. One of the key indicators of rising autocratic governance are restrictions on media freedom, where 157 countries reported an increase of attacks on journalists and media organizations. Personal freedom of expression also suffered due to violations of privacy, and increases in online harassment and censorship. Despite the setbacks, the report reminds us that historically speaking the world is still more democratic now with 85 out of 195 countries rated as free, than it was when the survey was first launched in 1973 when 44 of 148 countries were rated Free. To turn the trend around, alliances between democratic states must show leadership and take advantage of political openings provided by missteps in authoritarian rule.

Post Scriptum

The Meta Oversight Board and the Empty Promise of Legitimacy, by Evelyn Douek. The article reviews the Meta Oversight Board’s design, objectives, and performance. Douek acknowledges the Board, “an audacious experiment in self-regulation,” proved to be working: it has been fulfilling the basic functions, asserted its independence, became “a consistent and accepted feature of academic and public discourse about content moderation,” brought more transparency and accountability into Meta’s content moderation, and prompted the company to undertake meaningful reforms. Yet, Douek argues, the Board’s success stories also expose its constraints: the Board acquired considerable institutional legitimacy, even though it consistently avoided answering the most difficult questions that it was designed to address. To Douek, “the current political environment incentivizes a kind of oversight that is formalistic and unmoored from substantive goals.”

In case you missed it…

Content Moderation in Social Networks: Who Decides What Should Be on the Internet? On November 9, 2023, as part of the online seminar series on Freedom of Expression in Latin America, Columbia Global Freedom of Expression and the Foundation for Press Freedom held a webinar on Content Moderation in Social Networks. In light of disinformation or the dissemination of hate speech online, the webinar built upon the following questions: How to moderate the content found on social networks? Who should do so and on the basis of what criteria? The speakers addressed these tensions and the different jurisprudential models that have been developed in different legal systems to deal with this new challenge. The recording of the webinar, which took place in Spanish, is available on GFoE’s YouTube channel.

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