Don’t SLAPP the Messenger

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_single_image image=”116887″ img_size=”large”][vc_column_text]Why abusive legal threats and actions against journalists must be stopped.

Journalists are public watchdogs: by bringing information that is in the public interest to light, they help to hold power to account. But what if powerful or wealthy people wanted to keep their wrongdoings a secret? Abusive legal threats and actions, known as strategic lawsuits against public participation – or SLAPPs, are increasingly being used to intimidate journalists into silence. They are used to cover up unethical and criminal activity and to prevent the public of their right to know. SLAPPs have a devastating impact, not only on media freedom, but on human rights, rule of law, and our very democracies. This webinar hosted by Index on Censorship, the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF) and Foreign Policy Centre (FPC), will examine the issue of SLAPP and why we need to take action in the UK and the EU to stop them.

Bill Browder, Head of Global Magnitsky Justice Campaign (chair)
Annelie Östlund, financial journalist
Herman Grech, Editor in Chief of Times of Malta
Justin Borg Barthet, Senior Lecturer at University of Aberdeen

With contributions from:
Jessica Ní Mhainín, Policy and Campaigns Manager at Index on Censorship
Paulina Milewska, Anti-SLAPP Project Researcher at ECPMF
Susan Coughtrie, Project Director at Foreign Policy Centre


Register for tickets here.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text][/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

We must make sure UK coronavirus legislation is only temporary

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_single_image image=”112844″ img_size=”full”][vc_column_text]When the political scientist and historian Benedict Anderson wrote about nations in his 1983 book Imagined Communities, he said that belonging to them was particularly felt at certain moments. Reading the daily newspaper for one; watching those 11 men representing your country on the football field another. If Anderson were alive today, he might add “getting a government text message” to the list. Last Tuesday people throughout the UK all shared in this experience. Following Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s announcement the night before that we must all stay in, with few exceptions, the nation’s phones pinged to the alert “New rules in force now: you must stay at home. More info and exemptions at Stay at home. Protect the NHS. Save lives.” It was a first. The government had never before used the UK’s mobile networks to send out a message on mass.

By “force” the message meant exactly that. Police now have the power to fine those who flout the new rules. Quickly videos have emerged of officers approaching people on the streets, such as one showing sunbathers in Shepherd’s Bush being told to leave, and photos of a 25-person strong karaoke party that was dispersed this weekend. Almost overnight we went from being a nation where most people could come and go as they pleased to one in which we can barely leave our front door.

State-of-emergency measures are necessary in a real crisis, which is where we land today. Hospital beds are filling up fast, the death toll is rising, the threat of contagion is real and high. Few would argue that something drastic didn’t need to be done. But that does not mean we should blindly accept all that is happening in the name of our health. Proportionality – whether the measures are a justified or over-reaching response to the current danger – and implication – how they could be used in other aspects – are questions we should and must ask.

The new rules of UK life have been enshrined in the Coronavirus Bill. The bill, a complex and lengthy affair, gives the government a lot of power. Take for example the rules that allow authorities to isolate or detain individuals who are judged to be a risk to containing the spread of Covid-19. What exactly does a risk mean? Would it be the journalist Kaka Touda Mamane Goni from Niger, who last week was arrested because he spoke of a hospital that had a coronavirus case and was quickly branded a threat to public order? Or how about Blaž Zgaga, a Slovenian journalist who contacted Index several weeks back to say he had been added to a list of those who have the disease (something he denies) and must be detained? This followed him calling up the government on their own coronavirus tactics. He’s currently terrified for his life.

It’s easy to dismiss these examples as ones that are happening elsewhere and not here, until one day we wake up and that’s no longer the case.

And while many of us might be far away from authoritarian nations like China, whose government is tracking people’s movements through a combination of monitoring people’s smartphones, utilising now ubiquitous video surveillance and insisting people report their current medical condition, it might only be a matter of time before we catch up.

Singapore, another country with a state that has a tight grip on its population, has already offered to make the app they’re currently using to track exposure to the virus available to developers worldwide. The offer is free but at what other costs? The Singaporean government has been working hard to allay privacy concerns and yet some linger. Will people invite this new technology in their lives? Amid the panic that coronavirus has created, it’s not hard to imagine a scenario in which such tools are imported, embraced and normalised. As Israeli historian Yuval Noah Harrari writes in the FT:

“A big battle has been raging in recent years over our privacy. The coronavirus crisis could be the battle’s tipping point. For when people are given a choice between privacy and health, they will usually choose health.”

The coronavirus bill was meant to come with an expiry date, a “sunset clause” of two years, at which stage all former laws fall back into place. The sunset clause has since been removed, and instead in its place is a clause stating the legislation will be reviewed every six months. Politicians have also sought assurances that the measures will only apply to fighting the virus, to which they have been told yes they will only be used “when strictly necessary” and will remain in force only for as long as required. All positive and stuff we should welcome. And yet how often do politicians say one thing and do another? We must be watchful and hold them to their word.

This is particularly important with the clause that enables authorities to close down, cancel or restrict an event or venue if it poses a threat to public health, a clause that has bad implications for the ability to protest. Of course in the digital age there are many ways beyond going out on to the streets to make your voice heard. And even without the internet, we’ve seen several creative forms of protest from inside the home, such as the Brazilians who have shouted “get out” and bashed kitchenware at the window as a way to voice anger at President Jair Bolsonaro.

Marching on the streets in huge numbers is, however, amongst the most effective, hence its endurance. If in six months’ time the virus is under control and social distancing is no longer essential, this clause should at point-of-review be removed. And if it isn’t, we need to fight really hard until it is. Protest is one of the key foundations of a robust civil society. It’s not a right we want to see disappear.

The great British philosopher John Stuart Mill argued in On Liberty that “the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.”

The coronavirus crisis passes Mill’s liberty test. It is causing harm to a great number of people. It’s therefore important to take it seriously and to provide the state with adequate powers to fight the pandemic, even if that means losing some of our freedoms in the here and now. At the same time we must make sure politicians do not use this moment to tighten their grip in ways that, as stated, are disproportionate and easily manipulated. And once this is all over we expect the bill to expire too, and any apps that might no longer be necessary. Our freedoms, so hard fought for, can be easily squandered. Let’s not lose liberties on top of lives.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Index’s summer magazine launch party takes a look at the Weimar Republic and the lessons for today


“What is said and what is written is unbelievably important,” said Trevor Phillips, chairman of the board of Index on Censorship, at the close of the recent launch party for the Summer 2019 edition of Index Magazine.

The summer 2019 edition, Judged: How Governments Use Power to Undermine Justice and Freedom, looks at attempts to undermine freedom of expression through attacks on the judiciary. The magazine covers issues ranging from new laws in Venezuela intended to limit freedom of the press to instances of self-censorship due to government control of content-sharing platforms in China to new technology created by journalists to check back against threats from politicians regarding the coverage of recent elections in South Africa.

Rachael Jolley, editor of Index magazine, explained that the idea behind the theme came from conversations she had with journalists in Italy covering areas with limited press freedom and hostile environments for journalists. She said, “one of the things that [the journalists] said kept them going was that there were still lawyers who were willing to stand up with them and defend them when they were attacked, when they had libel suits against them, when all the things that happen to them mean that they end up having to stand before a judge.”

This inspired Jolley to curate the latest edition of the magazine around legal issues, to address the legal fight for free speech behind the work of journalists to liberate the media under repressive regimes.

The keynote speaker of the evening was German writer Regula Venske, whose article What Does Weimar Mean to us 100 Years On? was published in the issue. Venske spoke about the history and ultimate downfall of the Weimar Republic, which is now known for fraught democracy and the promotion of freedom of expression, though Venske spoke about how attempts to preserve free speech in the republic were often complicated or insufficient. She walked the audience through some of the influential writing and art produced before the republic’s fall to Nazism.

To conclude, Venske quoted Weimar-era author and poet Erich Kästner: “You cannot fight the avalanche once it has developed into an avalanche, you have to crush the snowball.”

Venske added: “I think that is quite a good saying for the times we are now living in, though unfortunately, he did not leave a recipe for how one could prevent this. I think we need to keep on working for it.”

Phillips, the last speaker of the evening, lamented the state of media freedom in the multiple countries where right-wing leaders have recently come to power. He mentioned specifically the rise of Viktor Orbán in Hungary and Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, two countries covered in the summer issue. “My time at Index has been marked not by the incredible march of progress but actually a reminder, pretty much every week, why what this organisation does is so important,” he said.

He applied Kästner’s quote to the work Index on Censorship continues to do around the globe. Like Kästner, he explained, Index works to warn the people before the snowballs represented by the arrest of a journalist or the censorship of an artwork become an avalanche of fascism.

“The avalanche starts long before you hear it,” Phillips concluded. “A large part of what we do is give the avalanche warning.”

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/3″][vc_custom_heading text=”Subscribe”][vc_column_text]In print, online, in your mailbox, on your iPad.

Subscription options from £18 or just £1.49 in the App Store for a digital issue.

Every subscriber helps support Index on Censorship’s projects around the world.

SUBSCRIBE NOW[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/3″][vc_single_image image=”107175″ img_size=”medium”][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/3″][vc_custom_heading text=”Listen”][vc_column_text]The summer 2019 magazine podcast, featuring interviews with best-selling author Xinran; Italian journalist and contributor to the latest issue, Stefano Pozzebon; and Steve Levitsky, the author of the New York Times best-seller How Democracies Die.

LISTEN HERE[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Contents: Judged: How governments use power to undermine justice and freedom

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_custom_heading text=”With contributions from Xinran, Ahmet Altan, Stephen Woodman, Karoline Kan, Conor Foley, Robert Harris, Stefano Pozzebon and Melanio Escobar”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]

Judged: How governments use power to undermine justice and freedom. The summer 2019 edition of Index on Censorship magazine

The summer 2019 Index on Censorship magazine looks at the narrowing gap between a nation’s leader and its judges and lawyers. What happens when the independence of the justice system is gone and lawyers are no longer willing to stand up with journalists and activists to fight for freedom of expression?

In this issue Stephen Woodman reports from Mexico about its new government’s promise to start rebuilding the pillars of democracy; Sally Gimson speaks to best-selling novelist Robert Harris to discuss why democracy and freedom of expression must continue to prevail; Conor Foley investigates the macho politics of President Jair Bolsonaro and how he’s using the judicial system for political ends;  Jan Fox examines the impact of President Trump on US institutions; and Viktória Serdült digs into why the media and justice system in Hungary are facing increasing pressure from the government. In the rest of the magazine a short story from award-winning author Claudia PineiroXinran reflects on China’s controversial social credit rating system; actor Neil Pearson speaks out against theatre censorship; and an interview with the imprisoned best-selling Turkish author Ahmet Altan.

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_custom_heading text=”Special Report: Judged: How governments use power to undermine justice and freedom”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Law and the new world order by Rachael Jolley on why the independence of the justice system is in play globally, and why it must be protected

Turkey’s rule of one by Kaya Genc President Erdogan’s government is challenging the result of Istanbul’s mayoral elections. This could test further whether separation of powers exists

England, my England (and the Romans) by Sally Gimson Best-selling novelist Robert Harris on how democracy and freedom of expression are about a lot more than one person, one vote

“It’s not me, it’s the people” by Stephen Woodman Mexico’s new government promised to start rebuilding the pillars of democracy, but old habits die hard. Has anything changed?

When political debate becomes nasty, brutish and short by Jan Fox President Donald Trump has been trampling over democratic norms in the USA. How are US institutions holding up?

The party is the law by Karoline Kan In China, hundreds of human rights lawyers have been detained over the past years, leaving government critics exposed

Balls in the air by Conor Foley The macho politics of Brazil’s new president plus ex-president Dilma Rousseff’s thoughts on constitutional problems

Power and Glory by Silvia Nortes The Catholic church still wields enormous power in Spain despite the population becoming more secular

Stripsearch by Martin Rowson In Freedonia

What next for Viktor Orbán’s Hungary? Viktoria Serdult looks at what happens now that Hungary’s prime minister is pressurising the judiciary, press, parliament and electoral system

When justice goes rogue by Melanio Escobar and Stefano Pozzebon Venezuela is the worst country in the world for abuse of judicial power. With the economy in freefall, journalists struggle to bear witness

“If you can keep your head, when all about you are losing theirs…” by Caroline Muscat It’s lonely and dangerous running an independent news website in Malta, but some lawyers are still willing to stand up to help

Failing to face up to the past by Ryan McChrystal argues that belief in Northern Ireland’s institutions is low, in part because details of its history are still secret

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_custom_heading text=”Global View”][vc_column_text]Small victories do count by Jodie Ginsberg The kind of individual support Index gives people living under oppressive regimes is a vital step towards wider change[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_custom_heading text=”In Focus”][vc_column_text]Sending out a message in a bottle by Rachael Jolley Actor Neil Pearson, who shot to international fame as the sexist boss in the Bridget Jones’ films, talks about book banning and how the fight against theatre censorship still goes on

Remnants of war by Zehra Dogan Photographs from the 2019 Freedom of Expression Arts Award fellow Zehra Doğan’s installation at Tate Modern in London

Six ways to remember Weimar by Regula Venske The name of this small town has mythic resonances for Germans. It was the home of many of the country’s greatest classical writers and gave its name to the Weimar Republic, which was founded 100 years ago

“Media attacks are highest since 1989” by Natasha Joseph Politicians in South Africa were issuing threats to journalists in the run-up to the recent elections. Now editors have built a tracking tool to fight back

Big Brother’s regional ripple effect by Kirsten Han Singapore’s recent “fake news” law which gives ministers the right to ban content they do not like, may encourage other regimes in south-east Asia to follow suit

Who guards the writers? Irene Caselli reports on journalists who write about the Mafia and extremist movements in Italy need round-the-clock protection. They are worried Italy’s deputy prime minister Matteo Salvini will take their protection away

China in their hands by Xinran The social credit system in China risks creating an all-controlling society where young people will, like generations before them, live in fear

Playing out injustice by Lewis Jennings Ugandan songwriter and politician Bobi Wine talks about how his lyrics have inspired young people to stand up against injustice and how the government has tried to silence him[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_custom_heading text=”Culture”][vc_column_text]“Watch out we’re going to disappear you” by Claudia Pineiro The horrors of DIY abortion in a country where it is still not legal are laid bare in this story from Argentina, translated into English for the first time

“Knowing that they are there, helps me keep smiling in my cell” by Ahmet Altan The best-selling Turkish author and journalist gives us a poignant interview from prison and we publish an extract from his 2005 novel The Longest Night

A rebel writer by Eman Abdelrahim An exclusive extract from a short story by a new Egyptian writer. The story deals with difficult themes of mental illness set against the violence taking place during the uprising in Cairo’s Tahrir Square[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_custom_heading text=”Column”][vc_column_text]Index around the world – Speak out, shut out by Lewis Jennings Index welcomed four new fellows to our 2019 programme. We were also out and about advocating for free expression around the world[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_custom_heading text=”Endnote”][vc_column_text]

End note – Hanging truth out to dry by Sally Gimson Documentary maker Maxim Pozdorovkin explains why propaganda these days is all about disorientation and creating a situation where it is hard to figure out what is true

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/3″][vc_custom_heading text=”Subscribe”][vc_column_text]In print, online, in your mailbox, on your iPad.

Subscription options from £18 or just £1.49 in the App Store for a digital issue.

Every subscriber helps support Index on Censorship’s projects around the world.

SUBSCRIBE NOW[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/3″][vc_custom_heading text=”Listen”][vc_column_text]Music has long been a form of popular rebellion, especially in the 21st century. These songs, provide a theme tune to the new magazine and give insight into everything from the nationalism in Viktor Orban’s Hungary to the role of government-controlled social media in China to poverty in Venezuela

LISTEN HERE[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/3″][vc_custom_heading text=”Listen”][vc_column_text]The summer 2019 magazine podcast, featuring interviews with best-selling author Xinran; Italian journalist and contributor to the latest issue, Stefano Pozzebon; and Steve Levitsky, the author of the New York Times best-seller How Democracies Die.

LISTEN HERE[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]