Tag Archives: freedom of expression

Media Freedom: ‘Without action the Commonwealth’s fine words will fail to impress.’

ICommonwealth flagn this guest post, journalist and Africa analyst Martin Plaut, calls on the Commonwealth to take a more robust view on new threats to journalistic independence. Do they challenge democracy and human rights as much as freedom of speech?

The Commonwealth has a problem: it has little credibility on the question of media freedom. Its members adopted a Human Rights Charter in March 2013 which stated plainly that: ‘We are committed to peaceful, open dialogue and the free flow of information, including through a free and responsible media, and to enhancing democratic traditions and strengthening democratic processes.’ Yet many of them have a less than savoury record in this area.

Out of 180 states assessed by Reporters Without Borders, Brunei is 155th, Singapore 154th and Swaziland 153rd. This is the summary of Brunei’s media offered by the BBC: ‘Brunei’s media are neither diverse nor free. The private press is either owned or controlled by the royal family, or exercises self-censorship on political and religious matters.’ Much the same could be said of Swaziland, while in Singapore the media is largely state-owned and journalists are restricted by rigorous defamation and contempt laws (The Guardian).

Where there has been dissent and opposition they have been suppressed. Consider the case of the Gambia, which left the Commonwealth in 2013. The newly installed President, Adama Barrow, has announced that it will return. In the upheaval and tension surrounding his election and the refusal of his processor, Yahya Jammeh, to accept the result, social media were disrupted. Twitter and WhatsApp, which had been used to organise resistance to President Jammeh’s rule, were unavailable, as the internet was cut. The return of social media was hailed as an indication that his 22 year rule was finally over.

Commonwealth journalists have now begun agitating for the organisation to take a more robust view. A Centre for Freedom of the Media has been established, led by William Horsley (another former BBC journalist). He welcomed the call by the new Commonwealth secretary-general, Patricia Scotland, for a ‘vibrant and responsible media’ and her claim that this is ‘vital to advancing our Commonwealth goals of democracy, development, rule of law and respect for diversity.’

But, as William Horsley points out, warm words are not enough. He called for action to support the declarations: ‘Journalists in the Commonwealth Journalists Association (CJA), together with the Commonwealth Press Union Media Trust and some experienced lawyers and members of other professional groups associated with the Commonwealth, argue that it is high time for that to change. We are putting forward draft proposals for a Commonwealth Charter on the media and good governance, to be accompanied by effective mechanisms for assessing and helping to deliver remedies for serious and persistent violations.’

The media is a vital watchdog across the developing world. In many countries it is among the last effective forms of resistance to corruption and misrule. One only has to think of the role of the independent media in curbing the abuses of the Zuma government to see that this is the case. Yet they pay a high price for this work.

As William Horsley rightly observes: ‘The reality is that many journalists or bloggers have been attacked or even killed for their work in recent years in Sri Lanka, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Nigeria and Uganda, all Commonwealth states,’ (Time for a new Commonwealth initiative on media freedom).

It is time that these abuses end and that the perpetrators of these attacks are tried for their crimes. Without action the Commonwealth’s fine words will fail to impress.

This post first appeared on the School of Advanced Studies, Talking Humanities blog

Martin Plaut is a journalist and senior research fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies at the School of Advanced Study, University of London. 

He will be speaking at The Commonwealth and Challenges to Media Freedom conference (4–5 April at Senate House), organised by the Institute of Commonwealth Studies.

It’s the inaugural event of the School’s Centre of Commonwealth and Media Freedom, and will bring together leading Commonwealth journalists, academics, lawyers, magistrates, judges, policymakers and human rights practitioners. Advance registration is required. Tickets: standard (£40), concessions (£15).

Information Law and Policy Centre’s annual workshop highlights new challenges in balancing competing human rights

dsc_0892  dsc_0896  dsc_0898

Our annual workshop and lecture – held earlier this month – brought together a wide range of legal academics, lawyers, policy-makers and interested parties to discuss the future of human rights and digital information control.

A number of key themes emerged in our panel sessions including the tensions present in balancing Article 8 and Article 10 rights; the new algorithmic and informational power of commercial actors; the challenges for law enforcement; the liability of online intermediaries; and future technological developments.

The following write up of the event offers a very brief summary report of each panel and of Rosemary Jay’s evening lecture.

Morning Session

Panel A: Social media, online privacy and shaming

Helen James and Emma Nottingham (University of Winchester) began the panel by presenting their research (with Marion Oswald) into the legal and ethical issues raised by the depiction of young children in broadcast TV programmes such as The Secret Life of 4, 5 and 6 Year Olds. They were also concerned with the live-tweeting which accompanied these programmes, noting that very abusive tweets could be directed towards children taking part in the programmes.

Continue reading

“Right to be forgotten” requires anonymisation of online newspaper archive

In this post, Hugh Tomlinson QC discusses the implications of a ruling in the Belgian justice system for the application of the “right to be forgotten” for news organisations. Tomlinson is a member of Matrix Chambers and an editor of the Inforrm blog. The post was first published on the Inforrm blog and is cross-posted here with permission. 

In the case of Olivier G v Le Soir (29 April 2016, n° C.15.0052.F [pdf]) the Belgian Court of Cassation decided that, as the result of the “right to be forgotten”, a newspaper had been properly ordered to anonymise the online version of a 1994 article concerning a fatal road traffic accident.

The applicant had been convicted of a drink driving offence as a result of the accident but his conviction was spent and the continued online publication of his name was a violation of his Article 8 rights which outweighed the Article 10 rights of the newspaper and the public.

Continue reading

MTE v Hungary: New ECtHR Judgment on Intermediary Liability and Freedom of Expression

Christina Angelopoulos is a post-doc researcher at the Information Law and Policy Centre of the University of London. She wrote her PhD on intermediary liability in copyright at the Institute for Information Law (IViR) of the University of Amsterdam. In the following piece, she analyses the recent judgment of the ECtHR in MTE v Hungary. The post was originally published on the Kluwer Copyright Blog.

On 2 February 2016, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) delivered its first post-Delfi judgment on the liability of online service providers for the unlawful speech of others. Somewhat puzzlingly, the Court reached the opposite conclusion from that of last summer’s controversial Grand Chamber ruling, this time finding that a violation of Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) had occurred through the imposition of liability on the applicant providers. While in principle therefore the judgment is good news for both internet intermediaries and their end-users, the ruling does little to dispel the legal uncertainty that plagues the area: attempting to reverse and head off in the right direction, the Court still finds itself falling over the stumbling blocks it set out for itself last year. [To continue reading the rest of the post on the Kluwer Copyright Blog, click here.]

David Goldberg: Dronalism in the Year of the Drone

Dr David Goldberg is a member of the Advisory Board of the Information Law and Policy Centre. He has recently authored the following: [1] ”Journalism, drones, and law” in A. Koltay (ed), Comparative Perspectives on the Fundamental Freedom of Expression (Wolters Kluwer 2015); [2] ”Droning on About Journalism: Remotely Piloted Aircraft and Newsgathering” in A. Završnik (ed), Drones and Unmanned Aerial Systems (Springer 2015); [3] “Dronalism: Journalism, Remotely Piloted Aircraft, Law and Regulation” in Florida International University Law Review, Vol 10 (2); and [4]Regulators Should let ‘Dronalism’ Take Off” in Media Asia December 2015. In 2013, he co-authored Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems and Journalism (Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism). In this guest post, he argues in favour of the use of drones in journalism.

Hands up who has heard of John Silva? Not many, I bet! Silva was chief engineer for Los Angeles station KTLA-TV. In 1958, he outfitted a helicopter with a TV camera and changed television news coverage forever. Fast forward 50+ years and a drone/remotely piloted aircraft (the issue of what to call the gizmos is so yesterday) is simply an analogous newer bit of kit in a (photo) journalist’s toolbox.

In my opinion, drones both can and should be allowed to be used inter alia for the purposes of newsgathering, journalism and media production: should because basically they assist newsgathering. In itself, the drone is nothing, it’s just a flying donkey. It’s what you strap on to it, e.g., a camera or data sensor, that makes a drone useful in the context of journalism/newsgathering (aka “dronalism”). As such, its deployment is protected under Article 10 ECHR (the only drone application to engage a human right?), because its use, just like a camera, for street photography facilitates newsgathering. Overly precious concerns about a subject’s identity disclosure using a device which might be difficult to spot would do well to defer to the 2015 decision of the European Court of Human Rights in Haldimann and Others v Switzerland, which found for journalists using covert filming techniques.

More generally, it has become something of a cliché to say that 2016 is the “year of the drone”. But, less reported (actually, not at all?) than yet-another-scare-story (is the industry even approached for a quote in those cases?) is the ongoing government-initiated “Public Dialogue on the use and deployment of drones in the UK”. In due course, the conclusions will be posted here (the full report is likely to be published in June). For now, one industry insider reports back from a recent cross-government working group on remotely piloted aircraft meeting:

“‘The public’s overwhelming feeling is they are excited by drone technology, they are not concerned by state, military or commercial use as ‘they know what they are doing’”.

The category of concern is the recreational/consumer user and not even the hobbyist who is likely to be a member of a group or club with a sense and culture of professionalism and rule-following.

To return, finally, to dronalism, here’s a thought: it doesn’t fit into any of the aforementioned categories! As the amicus curiae brief by News Media in the US National Transportation Safety Board Huerta v Pirker litigation states, “the publication of news is not a ‘commercial’ activity comparable to the sale of goods and services”. That activity and the activities pursuant to it are protected – that conclusion should hold whether with regard to US constitutional concerns or the European fundamental rights regime.