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

● Upcoming Event – Case Law on Content Moderation and Freedom of Expression. November 21, 2023. Columbia Global Freedom of Expression and the São Paulo School of Judges are inviting you to join the upcoming webinar on content moderation of hate speech, political issues, defamation, and disinformation. The event is part of the Online Course on the Internet and Freedom of Expression that aims to study the current academic and judicial trends on the matter in Brazil and globally. The speakers, Max Planck Institute Researcher Erik Tuchtfeld and São Paulo Court of Justice Judge Fernando Henrique de Oliveira Biolcati-PhD, will discuss how social media content moderation impacts legal and judicial understanding of what is lawful in the context of freedom of expression. They will also address the following question: How can the legal system balance the power of intermediaries in shaping the public discussion? The event will be in English and Portuguese with simultaneous interpretation. November 21, 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. 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 welcome journalists, the academic community, members of the judiciary, and anyone interested in understanding and promoting freedom of expression in Latin America to join their webinar on Press Freedom and Gender. Violence against journalists is one of the most extreme forms of censorship, and the cases of Jineth Bedoya Lima, Vicky Hernández, and Daphne Caruana highlight the need to strengthen a differential approach to tackling it. The webinar will serve as a space to explain the current problem and the legal solutions that have been proposed to address it. November 29, 2023. 2-3:30pm COT (Bogotá) / ET (New York). The conversation will be in Spanish. Register here.

Upcoming Event – CFOM Online Seminar: Towards the Development of an Online Violence Alert and Response System.The Centre for Freedom of the Media (CFOM) is hosting a seminar series on global media freedom, featuring journalists, civil society, and scholars as speakers. Dr. Diana Maynard, a Senior Research Fellow in the Computer Science department at the University of Sheffield, will lead the upcoming seminar on monitoring tools – a dashboard under development – aimed at understanding and responding to online abuse that targets journalists around the world, women journalists in particular. The project’s ultimate goal is “developing an ‘early warning system’ to help predict the escalation of online abuse into offline harm and violence.” November 23, 2023. 3:00pm GMT (London) / 10:00am ET (New York). Register here to attend.

● ECOWAS Court Condemns Internet Shutdown in Guinea. Media Defence reports the ECOWAS court has upheld freedom of expression in response to the July 2021 application against Guinea for imposing internet shutdowns and social media blockages in the spring and fall of 2020. The application, filed by the Media Defence lawyers on behalf of four applicants, argued that Guinea’s internet access restrictions during protests preceding the Constitutional referendum in March 2020 and Presidential elections in October 2020 violated the applicants’ rights to freedom of expression and information access. Media Defence notes, “The decision represents further confirmation that internet shutdowns are unlawful, and governments have a positive obligation to ensure the internet remains on.” 

Decisions this Week

Sameer Rao v. State of Uttar Pradesh
Decision Date: May 25, 2023
The High Court of Allahabad held that the right to change name is a fundamental right under Article 19 (freedom of expression) and Article 12 (right to protect personal liberty) of the Indian Constitution. The case concerned Sameer Rao, who sought to change his name from “Shahnawaz” to “Md Sameer Rao,” after having his name recorded differently in his High School and Intermediate certificates. Sameer’s application was rejected by the authorities, citing regulations under the Uttar Pradesh Intermediate Education Act, 1921. The High Court set aside the rejection order and held that the fundamental right to a name is an integral aspect of personal liberty and freedom of expression under Articles 19(1)(a) and 21 of the Constitution. The High Court emphasized the global recognition of the importance of names, citing international and domestic precedents, and applied the proportionality principle to the restrictions imposed by regulations. The Court read down the applicable Regulation, allowing Sameer to change his name, and stressed that the intimacy of human life and a person’s name is undeniable. The right to keep a name of choice or change the name according to personal preference comes within the sweep of the right to life guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution of India.

Shiv Sidharth v. State of Uttar Pradesh
Decision Date: May 16, 2023
The High Court of Allahabad rejected the Applicant’s plea to dismiss the Charge Sheet filed against him under Sections 295A of the Indian Penal Code and Section 67 of the IT Act. In this case, the Applicant had made derogatory remarks about “Maa Durga,” a Hindu deity, on the social media platform WhatsApp, causing offense to the sentiments of the Hindu community. The High Court emphasized that while the internet and social media provide a platform for freedom of expression, this right carries responsibilities. It does not grant citizens the liberty to speak without accountability or to use language without constraints. After a thorough examination of the First Information Report, the related allegations, and the evidence presented against the Applicant, the High Court determined that a valid and prosecutable offense had been established.

European Court of Human Rights
Mándli v. Hungary
Decision Date: May 26, 2020
The Chamber of the Fourth Section of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) found that Hungary violated Article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights (right to freedom of expression) in a case concerning the suspension of the Applicant journalists’ accreditation to Parliament for having conducted interviews and video recordings with members of Parliament outside the designated areas. The ECtHR acknowledged the legitimate aims pursued by the interference, which were twofold: to ensure the effective functioning of Parliament by preventing disruption and to protect the rights of Members of Parliament (MPs). It emphasized the significance of responsible journalism, emphasizing that journalists should act in good faith, providing accurate and reliable information in accordance with the principles of their profession. The Court determined that the lack of sufficient procedural safeguards accompanying the restriction on the Applicants’ freedom of expression rendered the interference unnecessary in a democratic society. Consequently, it found a violation of Article 10 of the Convention.

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 Expression Report 2023 
ARTICLE 19’s Global Expression Report 2023 provides a comprehensive analysis of the state of freedom of expression worldwide. It assesses 161 countries using 25 indicators to assign each a score between 0 and 100. According to this year’s report, there has been a significant decline in freedom of expression globally. Around 80% of the global population now lives with less freedom of expression than a decade ago, affecting over 6 billion people in more than 80 countries. The 21st century has seen an increase in repression for the majority of the world’s population. The report highlights a disproportionate impact on countries with larger populations, and that more countries are experiencing declines in freedom than those witnessing improvements. For instance, 95% of countries that have seen advances in the last decade have populations under 50 million, whereas only 74% of countries with declining freedoms have populations of that size.

Post Scriptum

● Google and Meta Owe US Publishers $14 Billion a Year, by Anya Schiffrin and Haaris Mateen. In their Tech Policy Press article, Schiffrin and Mateen comment on the recently published working paper they co-authored with Patrick Holder and Haris Tabakovic; the paper is an analysis of how much Meta and Google should pay to US news outlets for the use and dissemination of their journalism. The authors argue there is a trend of making tech companies pay for the news distribution they profit from – Australia and Canada passed such laws, and a dozen of other countries are considering similar legislative projects. As for the US, the authors note, “the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act is stuck in the Senate, but still alive.” If the Act came into force, according to the estimate in the analysis, Meta and Google would have to pay $1.9 billion and $10–12 billion respectively to US news publishers annually.

● America’s Censored Classrooms 2023: Lawmakers Shift Strategies as Resistance Rises. PEN America has released a new report on educational gag orders in the US – lawmakers’ efforts to silence educators on topics of race, gender, LGBTQ+ identities, and US history, among others. The report finds that 110 such gag orders were introduced as bills in 2023; 10 of them became law. By November 1, 2023, the number of educational gag orders turned into law or policy in the US reached 40. Estimating how many educators are affected, the report approximates the number as “1.3 million public school teachers and 100,000 public college and university faculty.” One of the recent trends that the report highlights is the dramatic change in the orders’ shape and “more insidious strategies.” Read the full report and access PEN America’s Index of Educational Gag Orders.

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