Index Index – International free speech round up 01/02/13

A US military judge has ruled the government must dismantle a monitoring system which allowed censors to suspend the broadcast of hearings for Guantanamo prisoners suspected of planning the 9/11 attacks. Army Colonel James Pohl said on 31 January it was “the last time” a third party could decide whether the hearings would be broadcast. The closed-circuit broadcast feed was stopped for a few minutes during a 28 January pre-trial hearing of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed — alleged organiser of the 9/11 attacks — and four other defendants. It revealed for the first time that an unknown external force was listening in on the trial and censoring proceedings at will. The feed was cut when Mohammed’s lawyer David Nevin requested the preserve secret CIA prisons where the defendants had been held before being taken to Guantanamo. Pohl, who was unsure why the information was censored as it was public information, said he and the court security officer were the only ones allowed to halt the broadcast.

An investigation into protests in Burma in November 2012 has discovered that police forces used white phosphorus to disperse crowds, causing demonstrators severe burns. Police involvement left more than 100 Buddhist monks and other participants badly burned, injuries authorities  said were caused by tear gas and smoke grenades. An analysis in a Bangkok laboratory concluded that the canisters, which were collected by lawyers after the protests, contained traces of white phosphorus.

Protestors had staged an occupation at Letpaduang copper mine for 11 days before police broke up the crowd. The report will be sent to a government appointed panel fronted by opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi for review. White Phosphorus is typically used in war to create a smoke screen and its use against people has been disputed.

An Indian state has banned a film for 15 days following complaints that it was offensive to Muslims. Tamil Nadu state in southern India banned the action film Vishwaroopam — which was due to be released on 25 January — after concerns that protests outside cinemas could turn violent. Muslim groups said the film portrayed their faith in a negative light and were offended that the terrorist in the film was Muslim. Tamil Nadu’s Chief Minister Jayalalithaa Jayaram said the state didn’t have enough police to impose law and order outside the 500 cinemas it was set to play in. Film director and co-producer Kamal Haasan has appealed for the ban to be lifted in Tamil Nadu and is expected to hear a judgement by 6 February.

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Naomi Campbell has won damages after the Telegraph falsely claimed she organised elephant polo matches

On 31 January, a 15-year-old girl in Iceland won the right to keep her birth name, despite authorities saying it wasn’t feminine enough. Reykjavik District Court allowed Blaer Bjarkardottir to hold on to her first name Blaer, meaning light breeze — a name her mother Bjork Eidsdottir gave her from birth, apparently unaware the name was on the government banned list. Icelandic authorities had originally rejected the name for being too masculine, referring to her only as “girl” in communication with officials. Iceland has official rules for what name a baby can be given. Names are supposed to fit with Icelandic grammatical rules and the alphabet. The ruling means the name can now be taken by girls across Iceland.

Naomi Campbell has accepted damages from The Daily Telegraph after she was falsely accused of organising an elephant polo match in India for her partner’s birthday. The newspaper had printed a story on 3 November 2012, alleging that Campbell arranged the tournament in Jodhpur for Vladimir Doronin’s 50th birthday celebrations. The model accepted an apology from the Telegraph, as well as “substantial” damages — although the figure has not been disclosed. Campbell’s lawyer Gideon Benaim said at London’s High Court that the “unfounded” claims had caused a “storm” of publicity in India after media outlets across the country republished the story.

Maria Miller Leveson threat raises fears of politicians interfering in press regulation

Worrying news from Buckingham Palace Road this morning: the Telegraph is reporting that Culture Secretary Maria Miller’s special adviser Joanna Hindley warned its reporters of Miller’s connection to the Leveson report before the newspaper published details of her expenses, notably that Miller’s parents lived in her taxpayer-funded second home.

The paper took the rare step of choosing to disclose details of the conversation in light of concerns over “the potential dangers of politicians being given a role in overseeing the regulation of the press.”

The key passage from their story:

When a reporter approached Mrs Miller’s office last Thursday, her special adviser, Joanna Hindley, pointed out that the Editor of The Telegraph was involved in meetings with the Prime Minister and the Culture Secretary over implementing the recommendations made by Lord Justice Leveson.

“Maria has obviously been having quite a lot of editors’ meetings around Leveson at the moment. So I am just going to kind of flag up that connection for you to think about,” said Miss Hindley.

Miss Hindley also said the reporter should discuss the issue with “people a little higher up your organisation”.

In an email statement, a DCMS spokesperson said:

Mrs Miller’s special adviser raised concerns with a journalist about the nature of an approach to Mrs Miller’s elderly father. Her advisor noted that Mrs Miller was in regular contact with the paper’s editor and would raise her concerns directly with him, which Mrs Miller did subsequently.

However, this is a separate issue to on-going discussions about press regulation. Mrs Miller has made the Government’s position on this clear.

This “flagging up” is worrying, but it’s not the first instance of those in power feeling that they already have right to tell reporters what to print. Remember the Spectator’s Fraser Nelson’s revelation last month, pre-Leveson?

In the last few weeks, I have had an MP and a government minister call asking me to (respectively) discipline a Spectator writer who had annoyed him on Twitter and take down a blog that was ‘over-the-top’.

Meanwhile, Evan Harris of the Hacked Off campaign, which pushes for tougher regulation of the press, has apparently suggested Miller should “recuse herself” from Leveson issues.

Those of us concerned about a post-Leveson environment in which emboldened MPs are able to intimidate the press have been told we’re overreacting. But today’s report proves our point: it is precisely the sort of thing that could prevent journalists from doing their jobs and endangers press freedom and the role of the fourth estate in holding politicians to account. And it does little favours to the argument that the state should have a role in regulating our papers.

Marta Cooper is an editorial researcher at Index. Follow her on Twitter: @martaruco