Free expression in the news

GLOBAL
Report: World Media Freedom At Low Point
Media freedom throughout the world declined last year to its lowest point in almost a decade, according to a new report from Freedom House, a U.S.-based democracy-monitoring organization. (Radio Free Europe)

CANADA
Harper Government muzzles scientists
The Harper government is facing an investigation by the Federal Information Commissioner’s Office concerning allegations of the censorship of Canadian scientists. (The Canadian)

CUBA
No freedom of speech in Cuba despite easier foreign travel
The Castro government’s easing of foreign travel restrictions on Cubans has not led to greater freedoms on the island, a leading dissident said yesterday. (Free Malaysia Today)

INDIA
No consensus on sex, violence and censorship in Bollywood
Getting directors, producers and activists into a room to figure out Indian cinema’s connection to violence toward women, rape and crudeness in society can be like a family gathering. People shout, get angry and fail to solve fundamental problems because they can’t agree on anything. (Reuters)

LIBYA
Voices in Danger: In Libya, Gaddafi’s media suppression lingers
Though Gaddafi is gone, the tools he used to stop Libyan journalists attacking him are still being used. (The Independent)

The New Libya Is Free, if You Don’t Count the Jailed Journalists
Being a journalist under the autocratic rule of Libyan dictator Moammar Qadhafi was an exercise in choice: between promoting state propaganda and spending time in jail. Now that NATO has toppled the regime, Libya is a little better at letting reporters practice their trade. But the press in Libya is by no means free. (Wired)

SOUTH KOREA
S. Korea ranks higher in terms of press freedom in 2013
How free is the press in South Korea? Well, according to the U.S.-based human rights organization Freedom House’s latest report, Korea’s level of press freedom increased this year ranking sixty-fourth out of 196 countries. (Arirang News)

SRI LANKA
World Press Freedom day, Uthayan and Freedom of Expression in Sri Lanka
This year, World Press Freedom Day focuses on themes that are particularly relevant to Sri Lanka. “Safe to Speak: Securing Freedom of Expression in All Media” and focuses on safety of journalists, combating impunity for crimes against freedom of expression, and securing a free and open Internet as the precondition for online safety. (Ground Views)

TRINIDAD
Libel laws to be amended
Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar will today take a note to Cabinet to amend the laws to ensure that no journalist can be jailed under section nine of the Libel and Defamation Act for the malicious publication of any defamatory libel. (Trinidad Express)

UGANDA
We should protect freedom of expression in all media
World Press Freedom Day is celebrated every May 3 to celebrate the fundamental principles of press freedom and to honour journalists who have lost their lives in pursuit of their profession. (Daily Monitor

UNITED KINGDOM
Don’t give politicians final say on changes to press regulation system, say public
Most members of the public do not want to see politicians interfering in a new system regulating the press, new research suggests. (The Telegraph)

UNITED STATES
Black pastor uninvited from speaking at college for criticizing Obama
Rev. Kevin Johnson, senior pastor of Bright Hope Baptist Church in North Philadelphia and alumni of the famed Morehouse College in Atlanta, was scheduled to speak at the school until he criticized Barack Obama in an op-ed at the Philadelphia Tribune. As a result of that op-ed, The Blaze reported Tuesday, Johnson was uninvited by the school. (Examiner.com)

In First Amendment Case Over Afghan War Memoir, Justice Department Asks Judge to End Lawsuit
The Justice Department has asked a federal judge to conclude that a former Defense Intelligence Agency officer “has no First Amendment right to publish the information at issue” in a memoir he penned at on his service in the war in Afghanistan. (The Dissenter)

Texas House OKs measure mitigating defamation lawsuits
The Texas House has passed a bill allowing publishers to mitigate the effects of libel lawsuits if the party affected by a mistake doesn’t request a correction or retraction. (SFGate)

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Delicious
  • LinkedIn
  • StumbleUpon
  • Reddit
  • Email
  • RSS
Politics & Society

Survey explores Arab media usage

Preliminary research from a survey of nearly 10,000 Arab respondents has found that while most support the right to free expression online, they are apt to believe that the internet should be regulated, according to the researchers.

The survey — a joint effort between researchers at the Qatar campus of the US-based Northwestern University and the World Internet Project — explored media usage in the Arab world. Participants were drawn from eight Arab nations: Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Lebanon and the United Arab Emirates.

The survey questioned participants’ perceptions of the news media, finding that 61 per cent thought the “quality of news reporting in the Arab world has improved over the past two years.” Media credibility declined in countries that experienced revolutions during the Arab Spring. The Saudi Arabian respondents gave their media outlets high marks with 71 [per cent agreeing with the statement, “The media in your country can report the news independently without interference from officials”.

Overall, the survey found high Facebook penetration among respondents who used social media. Ninety-four percent of the social media users had Facebook accounts, 47 per cent used Twitter and 40 per cent used Facebook. Among the Bahrain social media users, 92 per cent had a Facebook account, while just 29 per cent of the Egyptian respondents did.

The survey aimed to assess the use of media — TV, radio, newspapers, books, web — and levels of trust respondents had toward the sources. It also sought to guage how the respondents used the internet to communicate and conduct transactions like banking or purchases.

The results can be accessed at Arab Media Use Study.

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Delicious
  • LinkedIn
  • StumbleUpon
  • Reddit
  • Email
  • RSS

Free speech in the news

AUSTRALIA
Crotch rule takes many by surprise
News that certain “crotch” movements will be banned from performances at future Sunshine Coast Dance Eisteddfods left a Gympie instructor flabbergasted yesterday. (Sunshine Coast Daily)

SRI LANKA
US calls on Sri Lanka to ensure freedom of press
Expressing deep concern over the recent surge in attacks on Sri Lankan media organisations, the US today called on the country to ensure freedom of press. (Business Standard)

UNITED STATES
Lawsuit targets union fees collected from nonmember teachers
A conservative organization has joined with a group of California teachers in an effort to overturn laws that allow teacher unions to collect fees from those who don’t want to be members. (Los Angeles Times)

Christian group says Muslim organization’s $30M libel suit will expose terror ties
Muslims of the Americas is suing the Christian Action Network for defamation and libel following CAN’s recent publication of the book “Twilight in America: The Untold Story of Islamist Terrorist Training Camps Inside America.” Co-authored by CAN founder Martin Mawyer and Patti Pierucci, the book accuses MOA of “acting as a front for the radical Islamist group Jamaat al-Fuqra.” (Fox News)

ESPN supports Broussard after controversial Jason Collins comments
ESPN is standing by NBA reporter Chris Broussard after his controversial comments about Jason Collins, the NBA player who on Monday became the first active participant in a major men’s pro sport in the U.S. to publicly say that he is gay. (Washington Post)

A changing truth: Do online news stories about arrests constitute libel after expungement?
A class-action lawsuit scheduled for argument next month in Connecticut claims that the news media defamed arrestees in online news stories about criminal records that were later expunged.
(ABA Law Journal)

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Delicious
  • LinkedIn
  • StumbleUpon
  • Reddit
  • Email
  • RSS

Belarusian journalists draw sentences for covering opposition rally

Reporters of Radio Racyja, Henadz Barbarych and Aliaksandr Yarashevich, spent three days of administrative arrest after they had been detained in Minsk on 26 April.

The independent journalists covered an annual street action of the Belarusian opposition, The Chernobyl Way, that commemorates the anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster of 1986.

The journalists were detained by plain-clothed police officers on Friday evening on their way to editorial office. The police claimed the journalists “behaved in a suspicious way” and allegedly forcibly resisted detention. Barbarych and Yarashevich spent the weekend in a detention centre and stood an administrative trial on Monday. Judge Kiryl Paluleh sentenced them to three days of arrest each for “unlawful resistance to legitimate claims of police officers”, despite the fact accusations against the reporters were only based on contradictory evidence from the police.

The journalists denied the charges, saying the plain-clothed officers failed to present valid police IDs and they did not resist their detention.

Both reporters were released on Monday evening.

“I think the reason for our detention were pictures we made. Our cameras were confiscated, and given back to us with all the photos deleted,” Henadz Barbarych told Radio Liberty.

Detentions and physical violence of the police against journalists during street rallies have become quite common in Belarus.

Several civil activists were also detained on 26 April. Short-term detentions were aimed at preventing activists of a Belarusian ecological and anti-nuclear movement from participating in the rally. Three more activists were detained after The Chernobyl Way; one of them, Ihar Truhanovich, was  beaten by the police. Iryna Arahouskaya and Aksana Rudovich, journalists of the Nasha Niva newspaper, who were filming the beating of Truhanovich, were also detained for about an hour, but later released.

“The authorities of Belarus keep demonstrating its brutality. They act with impunity for citizens of Belarus to keep living in fear. Such illogical and unnecessary violence serves as a signal to the society that even if the government sanctions events, they don’t endorse them, and people should be afraid to participate in any oppositional street actions,” says Uladzimir Matskevich, the Chair of the Coordination Committee of the Belarus National Civil Society Platform.

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Delicious
  • LinkedIn
  • StumbleUpon
  • Reddit
  • Email
  • RSS

Free expression in the news

GLOBAL
How a handful of tech employees control the future of free speech online
Seeing the diversity of opinions online, it’s sometimes easy for the average user to forget that freedom of speech is not a universally held value. Not so for global tech companies like Facebook, Twitter, and Google who are increasingly finding themselves setting the standards for online free speech, whether they like it or not. (Think Progress)

BAHRAIN
John Kerry pushes Bahrain on rights, reforms
US secretary of state John Kerry pushed Bahrain on Monday to step up reforms and boost human rights as he met his counterpart from the Gulf kingdom shaken by two years of Shiite-led protests. (Times of India)

CHINA
Opinion: In China, let a thousand blogs bloom
Will suppression or free speech win the battle in China and beyond? (Los Angeles Times)

EGYPT
Egypt’s challenge: Free to speak
Under the Mubarak regime, the state closely monitored all forms of political and religious expression in Egypt. Now all that has changed and millions are watching a proliferation of satellite TV channels. Shaimaa Khalil reports on the new voices in the second part of her series Egypt’s Challenge. (BBC)

HONDURAS
President of Honduras toughens restrictions on freedom of expression in proposed telecom law
The president of Honduras, Porfirio Lobo, has presented the Congress with a proposal that toughens content regulations on the media, including regulation on schedules and punishments for broadcasting violent or obscene content, content that celebrates or defends crime, or content that goes against morals and good behavior, said La Prensa. (University of Texas: Journalism in Americas blog

KUWAIT
Activist in Kuwait jailed for royal insult as regimes take on Twitter ‘threat’
An opposition activist in Kuwait has been jailed for a year for insulting the country’s Emir on Twitter. The sentence was the third jail term handed down since the start of the year for online comments deemed offensive to the Royal Family. (The Times

UNITED KINGDOM
Scientists celebrate UK libel reform
New libel laws for England and Wales should help protect scientific debate, but campaigners worry that legal costs remain a threat. (The Scientist)

UNITED STATES
Mich. Arab festival being moved after religious tensions
After four years of increasing tensions between some Christian missionaries and local Muslims, the annual Arab International Festival in Dearborn is being moved from a street that has open access to a public park that could restrict admission to paid attendees. (Detroit Free Press)

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Delicious
  • LinkedIn
  • StumbleUpon
  • Reddit
  • Email
  • RSS

Free Expression in the News

CHINA
Social Media Censorship Offers Clues to China’s Plans
What gets removed from China’s social networks shows how censorship strategies are advancing, and can even hint at the government’s plans.
(MIT Technology Review)

INDIA
Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra: Filmmakers should do self-censorship
“Rang De Basanti” helmer Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra feels that filmmakers should exercise self-censorship while making a film in the nation of culturally diverse population. (ZeeNews.com)

UNITED KINGDOM
English Pen: we’ve got a defamation bill but it’s how we act that matters
Political and public opinion may have shifted on libel reform but there is still alot of detail to be worked out. (Guardian)

BAHRAIN
Bahrain arrests 22 over anti-govt protests
Bahrain has arrested 22 suspects over their alleged involvement in the unrest during a recent series of rallies against the Al Khalifa regime, including in the Formula One Race protest earlier in April. (RT)

UNITED STATES
Propaganda and Censorship: The Hollywood Industrial Complex
The new F-35 Joint Strike Fighter will fly its first mission on June 14, 2013, but it won’t be over Afghanistan, Syria or Yemen. It’ll be over the mythical town of Smallville, in the upcoming film “Man of Steel”. (AntiWar.com)

Free speech, not hate speech, upheld for all at University of Arizona
Speakers and purveyors of reprehensible speech can be motivated by many things. Sometimes it is profit, sometimes self-gratification, but quite often it is a simple need for attention. (Arizona Daily Wildcat)

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Delicious
  • LinkedIn
  • StumbleUpon
  • Reddit
  • Email
  • RSS
Politics & Society

The newspapers’ royal regulation gambit

Yesterday’s announcement by several newspaper groups that they had launched their own royal charter for press regulation was met with anger by Hacked Off campaigners and, to be frank, confusion by the public at large.

Index, for our part, welcomed the rejection of the government’s royal charter, while still being opposed to the papers’ royal charter.

Why? Well, there’s the issue that Index doesn’t really want there to be any royal charter, at all, no matter who’s dreamt it up. It still creates the prospect of external political approval of press regulation.

There’s also a problem that the papers’ version of the charter gives them a veto over appointments to the regulatory board, which risks the regulator being seen as a tool of the industry, just as the PCC was perceived to be.

Then there’s the issue that it doesn’t really address the problem of the threat of exemplary damages for those outside the regulator, one of Index’s key concerns.

And it leaves us none the wiser as to the whole “What’s a newspaper/journalist/website/blog?” question, which has been the cause of some confusion (as illustrated by Martin Belam‘s satirical take on the government’s explanatory flowchart below).

Still, the rejection is the interesting part. And the furore over the rejection has somewhat undermined the claims made by government and campaigners that they believed in a wholly voluntary system.

What happens next? By Leveson’s own admission, if a substantial part of the industry refuses to sign up, then the regulator has failed before it has even begun. That is where we seem to be now.

It was interesting to note that in his interview on BBC radio’s World At One yesterday, Peter Wright, who has been leading the discussion for Associated, Telegraph and News International publications, said that the other papers who are not part of that group saw the alternative royal charter proposal as a way to “get the ball rolling again” on negotiations over reform. That would suggest that even Wright sees this merely as the opening gambit in fresh negotiations.

So perhaps now we can start discussing the terms of a new, genuinely independent and voluntary regulator, without the mad rush that led to the government’s ultimately botched effort.

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Delicious
  • LinkedIn
  • StumbleUpon
  • Reddit
  • Email
  • RSS
Digital

World Intellectual Property Day: Copyright and creativity in a digital world

Does copyright do more to enhance free speech than to stifle it? This question comes into sharp focus every 26 April on World Intellectual Property Day, which aims to “promote discussion of the role of intellectual property in encouraging innovation and creativity”.

This year’s theme is “Creativity: The Next Generation”. Debate around whether copyright encourages or actually hinders creativity has intensified in recent years as laws designed to address offline infringement have struggled to keep up with digital technologies and the internet. Also struggling to keep up are artists, most of whom have seen slower revenue streams due to mass online piracy of their work. Many copyright laws and treaties already exist or are in the works to protect artists and the broader intellectual property industry against digital piracy, but some of their implications for free speech are troubling.

Copyright

The 1998 US Digital Millenium Copyright Act criminalised the production, distribution and use of tools that can circumvent digital copyright controls. It also limited the liability of internet service companies for their users’ copyright infringing activities if the companies agreed to implement notice and takedown procedures for copyright holders to seek redress.

Circumvention tools can be used for fair use activities that do not infringe copyright, making the criminalisation of tools without regard for intent potentially chilling in its broadness. Copyright holders from the recording and film industries also sometimes abuse notice and action systems by flooding them with bogus claims where fair use is clearly protected. The undue burden this places on service providers can encourage them to over-comply with requests in order to stay on the safe side of copyright laws. Such over-compliance can mean unnecessary censorship. The Centre for Internet and Society documented this to be the case in India, sending flawed takedown requests to seven web companies, six of which over-complied and removed more content than legally required under the country’s Information Technology Act.

Major companies including Google, Twitter and most recently Microsoft issue regular reports showing how many copyright removal requests they receive and comply with. Google received nearly 20 million URL removal requests on its search product alone last month, the majority of which came from copyright owners in the recording and motion picture industries and organisations that represent them. A big company like Google might have the resources to sort legitimate requests from the rest, but many small companies certainly do not.

A recent flurry of intellectual property bills and treaties on both sides of the Atlantic pose further challenges to freedom of expression. The Stop Online Piracy Act and PROTECT IP Act both failed in the US, and the European Parliament rejected the the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement in 2012 following global campaigns by internet activists and web companies opposed to their provisions. These bills and treaties have all been put on the backburner but run the risk of flaring up again if legislators move to push them forward a second time. The US bills would create a blacklist of websites accused of providing illegal access to copyrighted content, which could kick off a digital witch hunt from overprotective copyright holders that wish to censor sites even in cases of fair use. ACTA aims to shift the current IPR debate from international fora to secretive backrooms. It would also increase intermediary liability, making websites more responsible for user activity and more likely to restrict users’ online expression.

Important to note is that many people simply don’t understand copyright, causing them to unknowingly break these laws. About half of participants in a recent survey were confused about the legality of uploading and downloading copyrighted materials online. Major prosecutions, including that of a US woman who was fined $1.9 million for illegally downloading 24 songs in 2009, have increased awareness of copyright laws and their sometimes disproportionate consequences. A new Copyright Alert System in the US aims to do the same, relying on ISPs to voluntarily slow down internet speeds for users who regularly pirate copyrighted content.

Legal reforms and public knowledge alone will not stop pirating. Artists who have traditionally relied on rich patrons, governments and organised industries to bring their work to fruition are experimenting with new funding and marketing models to meet online challenges and to take advantage of new opportunities. Small donations from more than 3 million people on the crowdsource funding platform Kickstarter have financed more than 35,000 creative projects, bringing in $500 million in the past four years. Many musicians are also shifting their business focus from singles to concert sales, an experience that cannot yet be replicated online and that many fans are still willing to pay for.

Artists need to eat, and pirates should be punished. But for this to happen, copyright laws and their enforcement should to be just and proportionate and new funding models for creative industries should be pursued. Perhaps next year’s World Intellectual Property Day theme should focus on reforming copyright laws and exploring new business models to safeguard the next generation’s creativity and freedom of expression.

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Delicious
  • LinkedIn
  • StumbleUpon
  • Reddit
  • Email
  • RSS
Digital

Google Transparency Report shows Brazil tops takedown table

Governments around the world are ramping up their takedown requests, the latest data from Google’s Transparency Report revealed yesterday. 56 countries issued a record 2,285 requests to remove 24,179 pieces of content from the company’s products and platforms in the second half of 2012. This update comes three months after Google reported record high government requests for user data in the same period.

Brazil topped the list of offenders. The country’s courts and government agencies issued 697 content removal requests, more than double the number issued by the second-placed United States. Half of Brazil’s requests were to remove content that allegedly defamed or offended political candidates. Google removed content in some of these cases but is appealing others on the grounds that Brazil’s constitution protects free speech.

The countries in which courts requested the most individual items be removed were Turkey (8,751 items), the US (3,624) and Brazil (1,654). Requests from Turkey cited content that infringed copyrights or allegedly violated local laws that prohibit criticising the Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the modern Turkish state. US requests mainly cited defamation and trademark infringements.

According to Google’s newly compiled data, the most common reasons countries cite for removal requests since 2010 have been privacy and security, defamation, copyright, religious offence, electoral law, government criticism and adult content.

India’s government agencies issued 2,529 non-court takedown requests, far more than any other country. Most of these were issued in line with local laws on public order and ethnic offence amidst political unrest in India’s northeastern states.

Russia issued only six requests for Google to remove content in the first half of 2012. That number jumped to 114 in the second half of the year, 107 of which directly cited Russia’s new internet blacklist law. The law, which went into effect in late October, requires ISPs to block websites that contain “harmful” information including child pornography, “extremist materials” and information on suicide or drug use.

Countries with the worst digital freedom records like China and Iran requested few or no takedowns. Google services are limited or blocked and the internet already heavily restricted in these countries, meaning other measures are often taken to block access to online content.

In a troubling sign of internationally overlapping censorship, 20 countries requested that Google address the “Innocence of Muslims” video on YouTube, which the company owns. Australia, Egypt and the US merely asked Google to review the video’s compliance with its own community guidelines, but the rest requested it be locally blocked. Google complied with eight of these requests in accordance with local laws. It also preemptively blocked access to the video in Libya and Egypt “due to difficult circumstances”.

While government requests for content removal might be on the rise, Google’s compliance with these requests has fallen consistently from 76 percent in 2010 to 45 percent today.

Google’s transparency report has been a useful benchmark for the global state of online free expression since it first launched in 2010. Yesterday’s update comes one month after Microsoft issued its first report of this kind. Dropbox, LinkedIn and Twitter all share similar statistics.

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Delicious
  • LinkedIn
  • StumbleUpon
  • Reddit
  • Email
  • RSS

Free Expression in the News

Free speech issues making news around the world

TUNISIA
Commentary: Graffiti case shows Tunisia’s new battle with free speech
Tunisia, it turns out, does not consider political graffiti a public order offence, nor “harmful to the state of emergency”. (The National)

BURUNDI
Human Rights Watch penned a letter to President Pierre Nkurunziza on new media law
Kenneth Roth, Executive Director of HRW, urged Burundi’s leader not to sign the new media law adopted by the country’s Senate on April 19, 2013, and to prevent it from being enacted in its current form. (AllAfrica.com)

UNITED STATES
Pro-life advocates prosecuted for lawful free speech activity
Life Legal Defense Foundation is urging the United States Supreme Court to review a First Circuit decision which severely limits free speech of pro-life advocates. (LifeNews.com)

ACLU takes up case of anti-abortion group
The American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska is urging Alaska Governor Sean Parnell to provide more information about an incident involving state workers during a street protest in Juneau. The workers parked vans to block a banner from view of the state’s Captiol building. (Anchorage Press News)

Judge dismisses libel case against Tennessee state senator
A judge in northeast Tennessee is dismissing a $750,000 libel lawsuit against state Republican Sen. Stacey Campfield for publishing false information online about a Democratic candidate for the state House in 2008. (Greenwich Time)

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Delicious
  • LinkedIn
  • StumbleUpon
  • Reddit
  • Email
  • RSS