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Freedom of expression

2019

The Australian government passed the Criminal Code Amendment (sharing of abhorrent violent material) Bill which makes a crime for social media platforms not to promptly remove abhorrent violent material shared by their users. The legislation seems to be a response to the March attacks in Christchurch in which a white supremacist used a helmet-mounted camera to stream live on Facebook as he killed people in two mosques. The law defines abhorrent violent material as acts of terrorism, murder, attempted murder, torture, rape, and kidnapping. The crime would be punishable for people working for online companies by three years in prison and a fine of 10.5 Australian dollars or 10% of the platform’s annual turnover. The legislation creates a liability regime that is stricter than the notice-and-takedown regimes in the US and Europe.   ​​

Wikileaks' Julian Assange's political asylum was revoked by the Ecuadorian Embassy on 11 April 2019, and he was arrested by UK police.  One view explains the revocation from an Ecuadorian practical asylum standpoint in Why Ecuador ended asylum for 'spoiled brat' Julian Assange and Assange's arrest was designed to make sure he didn't press a mysterious panic button he said would bring dire consequences for Ecuador. Others have reported the detention as A sad day for human rights, for freedom of expression and for Ecuador.

Some do not consider the WikiLeaks publishing of documents to be a crime, rather, the hacking and leaking that opened the documents to scrutiny, for which Chelsea Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison. Assange is facing extradition on charges for helping hack one of the passwords.

 

The Copyright Directive was approved by members of the European Parliament. 348 members voted in favour while 274 voted against it. Members states have 24 months from now to transpose the directive rules into their national legal systems. The content of the Copyright Directive has been subjected to lobbying from businesses, copyright holders and digital rights lawyers. The most controversial article 13 (renamed article 17) have passed almost with the same terms of the last proposed draft. The rule requires from websites new duties to stop users from uploading copyrighted content. Advocates against the Directive say that the new rule can lead to the implementation of filters that will monitor the content before it is uploaded to block any content that breaches copyrighted material. 

A 52-page report released by freedom watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) enlists Beijing’s strategies to curb press freedom. Titled ‘China’s Pursuit of a New World Media Order’ it also said how China is using its political influence to export its media model to other countries. China, ranked 176 out of 180 in the 2018 World Press Freedom Index compiled by Reporters Without Borders (RSF), and it is now expanding its "ideologically correct" vocabulary, to deter any criticism of itself and to cover up the darker chapters in its history. 

The report highlights state-owned outlets CGTN, which broadcasts news programmes in 140 countries, and China Radio International, which broadcasts in 65 languages, as evidence of the country’s global media ambitions. It also said that China has heavily invested in African nations in an attempt to expand its media influence; in particular, through Chinese state-controlled programmes such as CGTN Africa which avoids critical coverage of Beijing.
While the Belt and Road Initiative has gained news-worthy eyeballs, the report says its anti press freedom project is just as ambitious.

Available in French, English and Chinese versions on rsf.org, the report says that Beijing uses propaganda advertorials in foreign publications including the Wall Street Journal and the Daily Telegraph.China Watch, an English-language state-sponsored insert, has reportedly been inserted into 30 major daily newspapers with a circulation of 13 million copies – 1.7 million of whom are in the New York Times and 6.6 million in Mainichi Shimbun.

Other methods of influence outlined by RSF include the country’s heavy investment in foreign media such as spending 3.3 billion Euros in acquiring shares across various European media outlets and controlling a radio station popular in Southern California.

The watchdog's report said the Chinese campaign "poses a direct threat not only to the media but also to democracies." Beijing dismissed the report as "totally not in conformity with the facts, and not worth refuting," with foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang accusing RSF of "prejudice" against China.

An international coalition of 31 civil society and technology experts asked the Indian Prime Minister’s Office to withdraw the proposed changes to section 79 of the Information Technology Act 2000, which regulates online intermediaries. According to the coalition, requiring intermediaries to ensure traceability of messages would undermine the security of online platforms and create a surveillance regime. Also, the draft requires intermediaries to preserve content requested by law enforcement for 180 days or longer. This data retention violates user privacy. The draft guidelines also oblige intermediaries to proactively monitor and automatically delete unlawful content. The coalition considers this provision an excessive burden for online intermediaries and contrary to regulations of many countries. A proactive monitor can result in censorship. The proposed amendments to the act were released at the end of December 2018.

Mona Hoiness sued an internet company for defamation in Oslo, alleging that her honour was infringed because of sexual harassment in three comments made anonymously by internet users. She lost her case against the online intermediary in all national jurisdictions and filed the case in the European Court of Human Rights. She alleged, this time, that the Norwegian State, and its national courts, by exempting the online intermediary of civil liability, did not protect her reputation which is encompassed by the right to respect for private life (article 8, European Convention on Human Rights). The European Court ruled that the national courts have struck a fair balance between Hoiness’ right to respect for her private life under Article 8 ECtHR and forum host’s right to freedom of expression also guaranteed by the Convention. In this case, exempting the intermediary from liability of third-party comments ensures the right of freedom of expression. ​​

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