Freedom of Expressions in the News: Weekly Round-Up, 17-21 January 2011

US Pastor Terry Jones banned from entering UK

Controversial US pastor Terry Jones had planned to visit the UK to address a right wing group “England is Ours”. Mr Jones came to prominence last September when he announced plans for his “International Burn a Koran Day” on the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. His plan received international condemnation and he was force to call off the protest.

The pastor’s activities came to the attention of the Home Office and he was banned from entering the UK. Under the unacceptable behaviour policy, the Home Secretary may exclude from the UK any non-British citizen, whether in the UK or abroad, for expressing views which:

  • foment, justify or glorify terrorist violence in furtherance of particular beliefs
  • seek to provoke others to terrorist acts
  • foment other serious criminal activity or seek to provoke others to serious criminal acts or
  • foster hatred which might lead to inter-community violence in the UK.

Pastor Jones insists that he is not against Muslims or their religion, but the radical elements of Islam. His views were echoed by Barry Taylor, secretary of England Is Ours.


Government resorts to hacking to stamp out coverage of unrest

According to monitoring groups, while Tunisia continues to implode with protests against unemployment and corruption, officials have been repressing the media.

 The Tunisian authorities have arrested journalists, censored opposition newspapers, denounced Al Jazeera and obstructed reports and broadcasts, report members of the IFEX Tunisia Monitoring Group (IFEX-TMG) and other IFEX members. 

On 12 January, however, the government said it would release all those detained – unless they had committed crimes – and that a task force would be convened.

However, there have been reports of increased censorship, with passwords and usernames of bloggers being harvested, reporters and political activists to identify protest leaders and delete or compromise their email and Facebook accounts.  In response to the government’s heavy-handedness online, rival attacks organised from abroad by the “hacktivist” group Anonymous (tagged on Twitter as #optunisia), hit Tunisian state-run websites early in the year, including those of the President, Prime Minister, the stock exchange and several ministries, reports Index on Censorship. 

 Last weekend, Tunisian citizens began to report on Twitter and in blogs that troops were using live ammunition on unarmed citizens and started communicating with one another to establish the numbers of dead and injured.



The Arizona shooting and the first amendment

 Columnist Darian Miller of the Guardian, has robustly defended the right to free speech in the aftermath of the tragic shooting in Tucson, Arizona.

 The British newspaper reported Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik’s condemnation of fiery rhetoric for playing a part in the actions of the disturbed shooter. Miller argues that such accusations are greatly overstated, and should be stopped, lest the first amendment of the US constitution be punished for a crime it didn’t commit.

As CNN reported, and as a CBS News poll found, the majority of Americans acknowledge the fact that there is no evidence the shooting in Tucson on Saturday was prompted by talkshow hosts, TV personalities or political talking points. Richard Vatz, a professor of political communication at Towson University in Maryland, has already called the suggestion that rhetoric caused this attack “fallacious”.

 Addressing the issue of “hate speech”, he argues first amendment case law has rightly protected such speech for decades, “Once the government begins regulating “hate speech”, it’s regulating speech, period. To diminish such freedom is to lose freedom itself”.


Mirror wins costs ruling in Naomi Campbell case

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has ruled that the Daily Mirror’s freedom of expression was violated by the legal costs it had to pay when it lost a privacy case brought by Naomi Campbell.

Miss Campbell’s case centred on the publication in February 2001 of a report about her drug addiction, including a photograph of her leaving a Narcotics Anonymous meeting in King’s Road, Chelsea.

In March 2002 the model successfully claimed breach of privacy and the High Court ordered £3,500 damages from the Mirror. An Appeal Court judgement overturned the High Court ruling in October 2002, ordering her to pay the paper’s £350,000 legal costs. Then in May 2004 the Law Lords – by a three-to-two majority – overturned the Appeal Court’s decision, reinstating the High Court judgement and damages, based on breach of confidentiality and breach of duty under the 1998 Data Protection Act. The judgment left the Mirror facing a total legal bill of more than £1m.

The Mirror complained to the ECHR that the privacy verdict in favour of Ms Campbell, as well as the amount of legal fees it had to pay, breached its right to “freedom of expression”, safeguarded by the Human Rights Convention. But the Strasbourg judges rejected the former claim, saying a balance had to be struck between “the public interest in the publication of the articles and photographs of Ms Campbell, and the need to protect her private life”. The ruling continued: “Given that the sole purpose of the publication of the photographs and articles had been to satisfy the curiosity of a particular readership about the details of a public figure’s private life, those publications had not contributed to any debate of general interest to society.”

There was therefore a lower level of protection of freedom of expression for the paper, and the UK courts had correctly backed Ms Campbell’s claim for breach of her right to respect for her private life, it found.

However, regarding the “success fees”, the ECHR said there was a risk to media reporting and freedom of expression, the verdict said, if the potential costs of defending a case risked putting pressure on the media and newspaper publishers to settle cases which could have been defended. However, requirement to pay them was based on a UK law which had been designed to ensure the widest possible public access to legal services in civil cases, including to people who would not otherwise be able to afford a lawyer. That did not apply to Ms Campbell, who was wealthy and whom had access to justice:

“The requirement on Mirror Group Newspapers to pay the ‘success fees’, which had been agreed by Ms Campbell and her solicitors, was disproportionate to the aim sought to be achieved by the introduction of the ‘success fee’ system.”


 WikiLeaks turned the tables on governments, but the power relationship has not changed.

 In another Guardian article by John Kampfner, the columnist examines the impact of WikiLeaks on freedom of expression and access to information.

 Kampfner argues that Julian Assange’s contribution is to have brought a previously arcane debate about the “information free-for-all” facilitated by the internet, into the forefront of global politics. WikiLeaks is only a symptom of a larger trend. Kampfner argues that the hysterical response of the US government has played into the hands of the Kremlin, the Chinese Communist party, Robert Mugabe, Burma’s Generals and other assorted dictators around the world.

 He goes on to characterise two competing and ugly forces. On the one side are governments who are exploiting the internet as a means of control rather than democratisation. On the other side is a small sub-section of the web 2.0 community who regard themselves as above the law, for whom all authority is bad and all information is good. Kamfpner argues that the bit in the middle – mediated journalism, non-governmental organisations and the more thinking end of the internet generation is being squeezed.

 Kampfner concludes that the information relationship has shifted, but the power relationship has not:

 “We have more knowledge, but are we able to, do we have time to, indeed do we really want to act on it? Will our security services now act any differently? Are our banks acting any differently? Once they have sorted out their online filtering system, will our diplomats and governments act any differently?”

 According to Kampnfer, everything has changed and nothing has changed.


OSCE media freedom representative welcomes adoption of access-to-information law in Ukraine, urges further reform

On 17 January 2011, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, [“OSCE”] commended the recent adoption of a comprehensive access-to-information law by the Ukrainian parliament.

 During a visit in 2010, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, Dunja Mijatovic urged the Ukraine to reform the media law, including by adopting laws on public service broadcasting, media ownership transparency and privatization of print media, and by abolishing the “public morality law”.

The new Ukrainian access-to-information law was passed on 13 January 2011, much to Mijavovic’s delight.


Guardian wins appeal against Iraq libel ruling

The Guardian has won its appeal against an Iraqi court ruling which judged that the paper had defamed the country’s prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki. The Iraqi National Intelligence Service (INIS) brought the libel action after the Guardian reported criticism of al-Maliki and the INIS in an article published in April 2009. The Al-Karakh primary court judged in November 2009 that the report was defamatory and ordered the Guardian to pay a fine of 100m dinar (£52,000).

However, the Iraqi appeal court ruled on 28 December that the article did not cause any defamation or harm to al-Maliki or the INIS, overturning the earlier court ruling.

The Guardian welcomed the appeal court ruling, saying that the earlier defamation charge:

“amounted to an unjustified interference with the media’s right to report on the activities of politicians and public officials”.

According to Aidan White, the general secretary of the International Federation of Journalists, the case was an “important challenge” for press freedom in the region:

“This case shows that in a democracy even the most powerful in the land can be called to account. It is a case that tested just how much progress has been made in creating a new culture of press freedom. The results are more than encouraging.”



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