BuzzFeed legal case shows Dublin’s draw for foreign libel claimants (The Irish Times)

Dublin is better known for attracting tech companies than libel claimants. But a US self-help guru’s lawsuit against an American news site has highlighted what critics say is the Republic’s emergence as the new global hub for defamation cases.

Jodie Ginsberg, chief executive of Index on Censorship, said it showed that “powerful individuals can bring claims wherever they think they can get their case heard most easily, regardless of whether there has been any meaningful damage to them there”.

Read the full story here.

Positive Hell

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_single_image image=”90233″ img_size=”full” alignment=”center”][vc_column_text]About Positive Hell

Positive Hell is a 30-minute documentary that tells the stories of five Spanish people, living in northern Spain, who tested positive for HIV in the late 80s who, defying the overwhelming medical consensus, chose not to take medication, or took it for a short period of time and then stopped.  Although one of the protagonists dies before the film is finished, he had lived for 27 years without HIV medication, and his testimony alongside the others maintains that their decision was life-enhancing and not life-threatening. The premise of the film is that the widely-accepted scientific approach to prognosis, diagnosis and treatment is wrong and that the drug companies “are the only beneficiaries” to the current approach to AIDS treatment.

The film – written and narrated by Joan Shenton of Meditel Productions was co-produced with the film’s director Andi Reiss of Yellow Entertainment – has been screened at many festivals around the world and was nominated for best film at the Marbella Film Festival.

In 2016, two planned London screenings of the film were pulled – by the London Independent Film Festival (LIFF) and the Portobello Film Festival (PFF). A third screening was pulled by Bluestockings Bookstore in New York and so outside the UK scope of Index on Censorship’s Art and Offence programme. In all three cases, cancellation of the planned screening came following public pressure and pressure from campaigning groups and science professionals.

The cancellations

The two cancellations in London followed a similar pattern: the film was accepted, programmed and advertised as part of a forthcoming festival programme.  Within days of going public, the directors of the film festivals received letters from leading AIDS charities asking the film be pulled. The directors of the film festivals then wrote to the producers of the film, informing them that the film would no longer be part of the festival.

Positive Hell was due to be screened at London Independent Film Festival on 17 April 2016 and was cancelled the previous week.  Portobello Film Festival was due to be screened on 12 September 2016 and was cancelled on 8 September.

Shenton contacted Index following the second cancellation of the film, to see if Index could help find out further information about why the films were pulled from the festivals. Index suggested that a Freedom of Information request could be made to Kensington Council, which was one of the funders of the Portobello Film Festival. The response to the FOI request outlined the reasons for cancelling the film, which the director had already conveyed in previous emails to Shenton and which are outlined below.

In researching this case study, Index wrote to the National Aids Trust and Terrence Higgins Trust, the two charities named in correspondence with LIFF (see below), asking them for access to the letters they sent to the festival directors. Index received, by return, a copy of the letter sent to Erich Schultz, director of LIFF, by Deborah Gold, Chief Executive of National Aids Trust.  

Gold wrote: “The film proposes that the origin and nature of HIV and AIDS are up for debate and that is simply not true. There is 30 years of worldwide, respected research showing exactly how HIV works in the body and how it is contracted – as well as irrefutable evidence that without medication it will lead to AIDS. …Denying this basic truth about HIV and AIDS kills people.“

She ends: “Giving a platform to people who spread these abhorrent and dangerous views is incredibly irresponsible. I urge you to withdraw the screening of this film as a matter of urgency.“

The Terence Higgins Trust did not reply.

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Guides to the law on free expression and the arts in England and Wales

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Index also wrote to both festival directors inviting them to discuss their reasons for pulling the film. Eric Schultz, director of LIFF did not reply. However, Shenton shared email correspondence in which Schultz indicated “two more major HIV/AIDS organisations” had contacted him urging him not to screen the film and “warning of protests to LIFF, the screening venue and the festival’s sponsors” if they failed to comply. Schultz said he had also received over twenty protest letters, including one from a LGBT society at the university where Schultz teaches and where the festival’s student advisory board is based.

The decision by Portobello Film festival to screen the film was condemned in an article by Buzzfeed LGBT editor Patrick Strudwick published on September 7, a day before the cancellation of the film was announced.

The Buzzfeed article brought together a range of voices that support the medical consensus on HIV and AIDS.  In the article, Jonathan Barnett – director of the Portobello Film Festival – is quoted as saying: “We believe passionately in freedom of speech and expression, but clearly have no desire to create any distress. However in the spirit of not causing upset and as a people’s festival that is responsive to feedback from the public we have decided to pull the film.”

In reply to our approach, Barnett provided Index with a brief summary about the cancellation by email.

“The Festival has been going for 21 years. We are a free festival. We do not charge for film selection or submission, or entry to any of our events. We pulled the film due to concerns expressed to us and articulated in the attached Buzzfeed article. We invited Ms Shenton to the Festival where she gave a speech and distributed flyers… I hope we were responsible in not screening the film in case of the possible distress it could cause to Aids sufferers. Both Terrance Higgins and NAT, who might fairly be regarded as experts in this field, regard the film as unhelpful.”

Barnett told Index he was unaware of the controversial nature of the film when it was originally chosen for the festival. He stressed that although the festival decided to drop the film he did offer Shenton a chance to speak publicly about it, which she took up.

Barnett said the festival listened to the concerns of AIDS charities. “It is the view of AIDS charities and doctors that HIV/AIDS denial is a movement which has real and deadly repercussions for people living with HIV who then believe that they can stop anti-retrovirals and survive,” he told Index via email. “This also leads to ongoing transmissions fuelling the epidemic. There is overwhelming evidence, in the UK and worldwide, of tragedy that HIV/AIDS denial costs. When this was pointed out to us we pulled the film. No action, protest or otherwise, was threatened.”

Other opposition to the film

In February 2015, the filmmakers privately hired the London Frontline Club (FLC) for an invite-only launch of the film and the self-publishing of an updated copy of Shenton’s book Positively False. Although the Frontline Club was criticised for hosting the screening at their premises in Paddington, London, it went ahead without incident.

On this occasion, the pressure to cancel the event came from science writers Simon Singh and Ben Goldacre. Singh tweeted: “Is FLC smart enough to admit error + cancel? RT @bengoldacre: Shame on you @frontlineclub promoting AID denialism. …”.

Index wrote to Singh asking him why, at the time, he thought that Frontline Club should cancel the film. He gave a detailed response, concluding:

“Clearly, it is not up to me to ban films, and nor would I want such power, but instead I was merely offering information and stressing that I thought they were doing the wrong thing by hosting the film. As a journalist, I think that I was making it clear that my opinion of the Frontline Club would fall if they were to go ahead with a policy of, essentially, taking money to screen any film regardless of the quality or accuracy. And I think many other science and health journalists would have felt the same.”

Shenton argues that by cancelling the film screenings, the five protagonists have been denied their voice and their experience has been invalidated.

“The film describes the agonies of being labelled as ‘HIV positive’ and poses these questions:  just how reliable are the regular tests and diagnoses for HIV and how essential is it for everyone found HIV-positive to submit unquestioningly to a possible lifetime regime of antiretroviral drugs. The film’s protagonists made their own decisions not to take the HIV treatments offered and have lived healthy lives for almost three decades.”

A screening of the film was also cancelled at a bookstore in New York in 2016 although the film has been screened at other festivals, including the Queen’s World Film Festival in New York in March 2017 where it was awarded a special jury prize.

For more information about the issues and guidance for screening, displaying and mounting of controversial work and freedom of expression, please see our Art and Offence guidelines.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_basic_grid post_type=”post” max_items=”12″ style=”load-more” items_per_page=”4″ element_width=”6″ grid_id=”vc_gid:1494248689291-0c39a0ce-fa9d-5″ taxonomies=”8883″][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Mapping Media Freedom: Russian investigative journalist dies after two brutal assaults

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Mapping Media Freedom

Each week, Index on Censorship’s Mapping Media Freedom project verifies threats, violations and limitations faced by the media throughout the European Union and neighbouring countries. Here are recent reports that give us cause for concern.

Russia: Investigative journalist dies after two brutal assaults

Nikolay Andruschenko, an investigative correspondent for weekly newspaper Novyi Petersburg died on 19 April after being subjected to two brutal assaults in March, Open Russia reported.

Alevtina Ageyeva, the director of Novyi Peterburg, told Mapping Media Freedom that on 9 March, two unknown individuals approached him near his house and demanded that he hand over documents and materials relating to an ongoing investigation into abuse of power by police officers.

When Andruschenko refused to cooperate, they hit him several times in the head and ran away. The journalist refused to file a complaint to the police.

The second assault took place a few days later. According to Ageyeva, she was called by the Mariinskaya hospital and told that Nikolay Andruschenko was in a critical state and being treated in the intensive care unit. He was found unconscious with a brain injury near his apartment.

Despite undergoing surgery he never recovered.

Although the local police have opened an investigation, Ageyeva doubts it will be conducted properly because of Andruschenko’s history of investigating cases of police corruption.

She is convinced that both assaults are related to Andruschenkov’s work as an investigative reporter.

France: Journalists barred from filming during meeting with presidential candidate Fillon

Two reporters for Buzzfeed News, David Perrotin and Paul Aveline, were physically prevented filming a meeting with French presidential candidate Francois Fillon on 17 April.

The journalists were filming two people who had interrupted Fillon’s meeting by shouting “Give the money back!” and were detained by the police when members of the candidate’s security staff physically prevented them from filming.

Guards first grabbed David Perrotin, pulling him by the collar, physically threatened him and demanded that he delete his video. A fuard then grabbed Aveline’s phone to prevent him from filming the scene.

At this point, according to Buzzfeed, a member of Fillon team said: “Throw them out.” It was only when the two journalists said they would write an article on the incidents that the members of the security team stopped threatening them.

During the same meeting, journalist Hortense Gerard, who works for BFMTV, was spat on. She later tweeted a photo of her sleeve covered in spit.

Russia: Novaya Gazeta receives serious threats after story on anti-gay purge in Chechnya

Independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta has received “direct threats addressed to its journalists” following publications on harassment of gay people in Chechnya according to a statement they released.

It says: “On 1 April 2017, Novaya Gazeta wrote on mass detainment and torture of Chechen residents who were suspected of being homosexual. We know the names of three persons murdered and we know that the number of those who were killed is much higher.(…)”

The backlash in Chechnya has left the entire staff of the newspaper fearful, the Guardian reported.

According to official data, on 3 April around 15,000 people attended an urgent meeting of representatives from the republic’s Muslim communities in the central mosque in Grozny, the capital of Chechnya.

During the meeting, Adam Shakhidov, an adviser to the head of the Chechen Republic, Ramzan Kadyrov, publicly accused the editorial staff of Novaya Gazeta of defamation and called them “enemies of our religion and our motherland”. This was broadcast live by a local TV channel and led to aggressive comments on social media.

After the meeting, a resolution was accepted. The second paragraph states the following: “The centuries-old traditions of Chechen society, the dignity of Chechen men, and our faith have all been insulted, and we promise that those behind it will face reprisals, whoever they are and wherever they are.”

Novaya Gazeta has called on the Russian authorities to prevent the hate speech directed at journalists for doing their jobs. When Novaya Gazeta’s statement was published online, its website crashed and staff are convinced this was due to a DDoS attack.

The backlash was sparked by an 1 April story from reporter Elena Milashina and her colleague Irina Gordienko. In March, Milashina had discovered evidence that gay men were being detained, tortured and even killed in an anti-homosexual purge in Chechnya.

Milashina spoke to The Washington Post on Friday 14 April from an undisclosed location and said she was thinking of leaving the country because of safety concerns.

Ukraine: Film crew shot at while investigating oligarch’s estate

Unidentified assailants shot at journalists from investigative program Slidstvo.Info on 14 April. The journalists were filming the estate of oligarch Rinat Akhmetov around Kyiv, the Institute of Mass Information reported.

“Our reporters Maxim Opanasenko and Kirill Shapar were filming a new estate near Kyiv which belongs to Rinat Akhmetov,” Slidstvo.Info reported.

Unidentified individuals shot a meter and a half above the car where Slidstvo.Info journalists were seated, Maxim Opanasenko told IMI. “I didn’t see the gunman. We suspect this was intended to scare us because they saw our drone,” the journalist said.

He added that the journalists are planning to investigate who the shooters were. No journalists were injured according to the IMI report.

Greece: Journalist arrested following libel lawsuit from central banker’s wife

Journalist and publisher Kostas Vaxevanis was arrested following a libel lawsuit against him filed by Lina Nikolopoulou, who is married to Bank of Greece Governor Yiannis Stournaras, Naftemporiki newspaper reported.

On 9 April Vaxevanis published an article in the weekly newspaper Documento about Nikolopoulou, who he claimed had received up to €400,000 of state money for medical and pharmaceutical lobbying and conference work and Stournaras presence in these conferences as a lecturer.

Vaxevanis alleges that contracts for these services were awarded to Nikolopoulou without being offered for public tender. 

“The Stournaras family is not struggling in a legal battle, as it pretends. Mr and Mrs Stournaras struggle for their survival. They are trying to cover the way they act and operate,” Vaxevanis wrote in a statement asking for support.

The party leading the Greek government, Syriza, issued a statement stressing that the lawsuit “directly challenges journalism and press freedom” and adding that “the report raises some critical questions about the public health area, which require serious and documented answers”.

Vaxevanis was released later the same day.  

Mapping Media Freedom

Click on the bubbles to view reports or double-click to zoom in on specific regions. The full site can be accessed at[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_basic_grid post_type=”post” max_items=”4″ element_width=”6″ grid_id=”vc_gid:1493112590515-3ca2c0ad-ff59-8″ taxonomies=”6564″][/vc_column][/vc_row]