The United Nations General Assembly declared May 3 to be World Press Freedom Day, a day that human rights defenders use to raise awareness of the importance of freedom of the press and remind governments of their duty to respect and uphold the right to freedom of expression enshrined under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Among the participants joining us today are:

• Toby Mendel, Executive Director, Centre for Law and Democracy

• Michael Karanicolas, Senior Legal Officer, Centre for Law and Democracy

• Jeremy Dear, Deputy Secretary General, International Federation of Journalists

• Ernest Sagaga, Head of Human Rights and Safety, International Federation of Journalists

• Monir Zaroour, Middle East and Arab World Coordinator, International Federation of Journalists

• Muhammad Aftab Alam, Component Lead, International Media Support (Pakistan)

• Nejib_Mokni, Project coordinator, ARTICLE 19 – Tunisia

• Tahmina Rahman, Bangladesh and South Asia Director, ARTICLE 19

• Joara Marchezini, Access to Information Officer, ARTICLE 19 - Brazil

• Agustina Del Campo, Director, Center for Studies on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information (CELE) at Universidad de Palermo

• Edetaen Ojo, Executive Director, Media Foundation For West Africa

We work around the world to promote freedom of expression, and are eager to answer any questions you have about challenges facing this vital human right. The different organizations will be logging in and out depending on time zones (earlier participation for those based in the Asia or the Middle East, later for those in North America and Latin America), but there will be people here to answer your questions throughout the day.

Please - Ask Us Anything!

Proof: https://twitter.com/Law_Democracy/status/859739483348094976 https://twitter.com/M_Karanicolas/status/859779417400381440

Edited 2:30 EST: Ok, we get it. You don't like CNN. Seriously though, thanks so much for all these responses, and the robust debate that's taken place here today. Although none of us are journalists ourselves, we really relish these conversations, particularly challenging ones, about the state of the world's media and of freedom of expression, and it's really great to see so much engagement on critically important issues. We may not agree on everything, but hopefully we agree that freedom of expression needs to be safeguarded against all threats.

Things appear to be winding down a bit, so we're going to call time at 15:00 EST. Thanks again!

Edited 8:30 pm: Circled back through and saw that a couple of questions about Saudi Arabia and Iran have risen to the top, so I thought I'd address them. Saudi Arabia has an absolutely atrocious human rights record, including but not limited to free speech issues. One of the world's worst governments, and one which several of my colleagues on this AMA have been highly critical of in the past: https://www.article19.org/resources.php/resource/38207/en/saudi-arabia:-poet-ashraf-fayadh-given-death-sentence-for-apostasy http://www.ifj.org/nc/news-single-view/browse/5/backpid/59/category/gender-equality/article/ifj-condemns-brutal-and-inhumane-saudi-action-against-woman-journalist/

My own organization hasn't been very active on Saudi Arabia not because we have any affinity for that horrendous government, but rather because, as a small organization, we tend to focus our resources on countries where we see some potential of impacting positive change, which just isn't the case in Saudi. It's the same reason we haven't been that active on China or North Korea. We look for places we can make a difference, as opposed to those whose governments are completely indifferent to human rights criticism.

Regarding Iran - another atrocious government, and again one which my colleagues have been sharply critical of: https://www.article19.org/en/azad/, http://www.ifj.org/nc/news-single-view/backpid/1/article/iran-three-journalists-arrested-in-one-week/. Again, it's not an area we've been particularly active, because, as /u/hotsoccerchic points out, outside criticisms seem to only fuel the hardliners. In terms of what to do in a case like that - solidarity among the rest of the world is important, as well as consideration of a country's human rights record in establishing economic relations. Without necessarily coming out in support or opposition to the recent Iranian nuclear deal, I do think that the country's human rights record has, to a certain degree, fallen by the wayside with the focus on their nuclear programme. Hopefully, with the proliferation of the Internet and the increasing democratisation of tools of mass communication, Iran's youth will be empowered to finish the work of the Green Revolution in 2009 though, like Turkey and the Philippines, when a country is dead-set against respecting human rights, and has solid support of the army and security services, it's incredibly challenging to impact change.

Comments: 2174 • Responses: 48  • Date: 

TheGreatGagne537 karma

What are you doing currently in places like Saudi Arabia? I have a Saudi friend who has mentioned that someone he knew there got put in jail for tweeting something against the government.

Michael_Karanicolas126 karma

Saudi Arabia has an absolutely atrocious human rights record, including but not limited to free speech issues. One of the world's worst governments, and one which several of the organizations participating in this AMA have been highly critical of in the past:

https://www.article19.org/resources.php/resource/38207/en/saudi-arabia:-poet-ashraf-fayadh-given-death-sentence-for-apostasy

http://www.ifj.org/nc/news-single-view/browse/5/backpid/59/category/gender-equality/article/ifj-condemns-brutal-and-inhumane-saudi-action-against-woman-journalist/

My own organization hasn't been very active on Saudi Arabia not because we have any affinity for that horrendous government, but rather because, as a small organization, we tend to focus our resources on countries where we see some potential of impacting positive change, which just isn't the case in Saudi. It's the same reason we haven't been that active on China, despite their atrocious record.

hlwroc215 karma

How would you rate the freedom of expression in the United States as compared to other countries around the world? A lot of my friends think that the Government in the United States tries to shut down the freedom of expression, while it appears as Americans can say just about anything (with a few exceptions, of course). In stories I see about other countries, those same freedoms don't seem to exist in the same manner.

Michael_Karanicolas317 karma

Freedom of expression is a multifaceted thing, so it depends on which areas you want to focus on. In some areas, like hate speech, the US has an almost absolutist approach to freedom of expression, which goes beyond most of the rest of the world. However, recent years have seen some alarming trends, such as the increasing targeting of whistleblowers, and even journalists. Also, widespread mass surveillance is considered by most to be an infringement of freedom of expression. On the whole, Freedom House's World Press Freedom Index is a fairly handy guide, which places the US in the "Free" category, but serious threats to freedom of expression nonetheless exist in the country, and it's important to be vigilant to safeguard this right.

hotsoccerchic163 karma

My uncle was killed in the Iranian 1988 executions for political dissent against the Islamic regime. Today, there is no such thing as freedom of speech in Iran- speaking out against hardliner politicians or against Islam, even if you didn't mean to and somebody just perceives you as doing so, can result in a prison sentence and severe penalties (lashings, executions, etc). Hardly a few days ago, an Iranian TV executive that translated media into Persian was mysteriously killed in a drive-by shooting.

The more the west tries to influence Iran, for example if western circles publicly called for more freedom of expression in Iran, the more ground the conservative hardliners (aka most of the regime) would gain because they are against western influence. How can the rest of the world promote freedom of speech and expression in Iran today? Is this even possible?

Michael_Karanicolas24 karma

Sorry to hear about your uncle. Iran's government is utterly atrocious, and one that my colleagues in this AMA have been sharply critical of: https://www.article19.org/en/azad/, http://www.ifj.org/nc/news-single-view/backpid/1/article/iran-three-journalists-arrested-in-one-week/. It's not an area we've been particularly active, because as a small organization we tend to focus our resources on place we see potential to impact positive change and, as you point out, outside criticisms seem to only fuel the hardliners. In terms of what to do in a case like that - solidarity among the rest of the world is important, as well as consideration of a country's human rights record in establishing economic relations. Without necessarily coming out in support or opposition to the recent Iranian nuclear deal, I do think that the country's human rights record has, to a certain degree, fallen by the wayside with the focus on their nuclear programme. Hopefully, with the proliferation of the Internet and the increasing democratisation of tools of mass communication, Iran's youth will be empowered to finish the work of the Green Revolution in 2009 though, like Turkey and the Philippines, when a government is dead-set against respecting human rights, and has solid support of the army and security services, it can be incredibly challenging to impact change.

HruntingforTruth56 karma

Do you feel online spaces like Twitter or Facebook should allow equal opportunity to all voices to be heard without censorship?

Michael_Karanicolas32 karma

It's a very interesting question as to what level of responsibility comes with these intermediaries' role as the facilitators of online speech. Generally, human rights are understood to apply to States, rather than the private sector, but there's been increasing recognition that responsibilities should attach to these tech firms as well. For a broader discussion, check out something I wrote on this issue at: responsible-tech.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/Intermediaries-Print.pdf

patrick_enright53 karma

In a time where "fake news" is spreading like wildfire, what role (if any) do governments have to play in regulating the profession of journalism? When does a government cross the line from legitimate standard setting to undue influence in the marketplace of ideas?

Michael_Karanicolas136 karma

The traditional approach is to always favour self-regulatory models over the press, rather than any heavy handed government intervention, and I personally am not convinced that the current storm over fake news is enough to warrant a shift from that. Dominance over the news industry is a hallmark of repressive regimes. Any time you get to a point where the government is regulating what the "true" version of the news is, it leads you into some dark places.

Iamabioticgod69 karma

What about a corporation like Facebook or Google deciding what is "fake news"?

E: typo

Michael_Karanicolas131 karma

So, when this whole "fake news" thing kicked up, I was very uncomfortable with the calls for tech firms to do more. Major tech firms (and Facebook in particular) are INCREDIBLY powerful forces in the online space. This is true everywhere, but especially true in places like Myanmar or Indonesia where many people literally don't understand that the Internet exists outside of Facebook. I don't want Facebook taking a firm position on which version of the truth is correct - and then passing only that version on to their 2 billion users. It's horrifying to think what they could do with that kind of a platform if they decided to use their powers more aggressively.

That said, it looks like the tech firms are moving towards taking a firmer interventionist hand, so the thing to do is to engage with them to make sure they act responsibly, and don't try and push a news agenda that suits them. It's a very delicate, and dangerous space. I don't think Facebook or Google are "evil" companies, but we do need to watch very carefully to see what they do with the unprecedented levels of power over the global discourse that they now wield.

firinmylazah46 karma

What do you think about last year's story of Mike Ward (Stand-up comedian) VS Jeremy Gabriel and the Court of Human Rights in Quebec, Canada? Have you heard of it?

It sparked a lot of debate towards freedom of expression, specifically for comedians and what they can/can't say legally.

For context; Jeremy Gabriel has Treacher Collins syndrome (facial deformities, especially ears, jaw and cheeks. In his case, he was born pretty much deaf due to malformations. He eventually got very good hearing aids and around age 10 started his dream of singing. 5 or 6 years ago, his parents exposed him a lot to the media and more importantly, he appeared with the make a wish foundation, which made his dream of singing before the Pope come true.

Fast forward 2016, Mike Ward has a number in his one-man show that starts by reminding people about him from years ago, stating that most people were saying "he sings so bad, he sounds awful, etc." (which people were saying), but that he kept defending him. "It's ok, it's his dream, let him be, he's sick, he's dying, let him be, yeah he sings bad but it's his wish, he's dying, let him be."

But then, he's really upset because today, he's not dead! "Of course not, I now know what sickness he has. Goddamn, he's just ugly! I was defending him and now I look like a fool!" (Usually Make a Wish foundation is for very sick children who are dying, they make their wish come true before they die... But TC syndrome is not dangerous for your life). Then he goes on being upset that he wouldn't die. "It's simple; I defended you, you just had to die!" When his mother made him such a parade years ago and presented him with Make a Wish as a dying little boy, the whole Province pitied poor little Jeremy as if he was dying-sick when he never was (I was here and he actually became quite the pariah because of his mother). The harshest thing Mike Ward said is: "I saw him at the waterpark last summer, I tried to drown him but he just won't die!"

So the Court of Human Rights sided with Jeremy and sued Ward for difamation and damages to personal life, then won for an amount of $42 000. Mike Ward is waiting for a appeal to the decision.

Michael_Karanicolas53 karma

I don't do a whole lot of freedom of expression work in Canada, because my organization mainly focuses on emerging democracies, but I find the Mike Ward case very, very troubling. People should have a constitutional right to say offensive or hurtful things, and it's not the State's job to protect people's feelings. This is absolutely chilling for Canada's expressive discourse.

There's not a lot I agree with that Stephen Harper did, but scaling back on the anti-hate rules in the Human Rights Act is one of them. We have hate speech laws in the criminal code. If speech doesn't rise to that level, it shouldn't be subject to State sanction. Unfortunately, at the provincial level enforcement is still more intrusive.

BNASTYALLDAYBABY42 karma

College universities are currently some of the areas most affected by dwindling freedom of expression and speech in the United States. How do you guys plan on addressing this?

Michael_Karanicolas33 karma

I'm actually troubled by this. The academic space is supposed to be the most open and freewheeling expressive environment out there, and the drive to silence dissenting voices, even offensive and hateful ones, is deeply troubling. Engagement is always preferable to trying to shut the other side down.

And, for the record, the reason I wasn't responding was because, at last count, there's 884 comments :). It's difficult to keep up, even if there are a few of us working on it.

Nevrmorr39 karma

It's my personal belief that many people, in the US at least, have become intellectually lazy enough to rely on online sources of information that are highly biased, at best, and outright fraudulent, at worst.

In an age when people are so easily influenced, and just want to be entertained more than informed, how does serious journalism remain viable, politically and economically?

Michael_Karanicolas53 karma

"Viable economically" is an enormous challenge, and not one I see any easy solutions for. The best long form journalism seems to be being produced at institutions that have independent sources of wealth - either from a trust, or State support, or from a rich owner. Not an ideal situation, and all I can really say to that is - pay for your journalistic content :)

But I do think that breaking people outside of their bubbles is one of the biggest challenges we face, especially given that, according to some accounts, the Internet, rather than bridging these gaps as one might expect, has actually made things worse. Even here on Reddit, you have Politics and The_Donald - and never the twain shall meet. I think that we need to do more to foster engagement between polarised positions, and to try and find forums to agree on shared interpretations of the facts, if there's ever going to be progress made towards addressing common challenges.

The_Prophet_Muhammed20 karma

How is pepsi helping your cause?

Michael_Karanicolas34 karma

JoinTheMovement

JanosDjango16 karma

What do you think of the situation on the island of New Guinea / Papua? Its such a large region with so many conflicts, and yet, there seems to be so little coverage of news. Do the original papuans have any free press or human rights at all?

Michael_Karanicolas11 karma

I went to Papua a few years back as part of an international human rights mission. It's a very troubling situation, and particularly relevant since this year's UNESCO World Press Freedom Day event is being held in Jakarta. I know a lot of people have been trying to draw attention to the abuses in Papua as part of that event, so hopefully it succeeds in shining a light on the abuses that continue to take place.

subadubwappawappa12 karma

Do you feel the use of anonymous sources has undermined the public's trust in modern journalism?

Michael_Karanicolas25 karma

The use of anonymous sources is a critical journalistic tool, in order to encourage people who wouldn't talk to you otherwise. That said, there have been legitimate questions raised about the pervasiveness of its use, and that in some instances it's abused by governments to plant stories without have to take responsibility for them. It's a highly contextual and difficult question as to whether and in what circumstances promises of anonymity are appropriate, but certainly it needs to be protected as a journalistic tool.

doomsdayprophecy11 karma

Why would you do an AMA on reddit where the admins ban books and constantly censor people?

Michael_Karanicolas18 karma

Without endorsing the view expressed in the question, I will say that human rights advocates would have very limited impact if we only went to places where freedom of expression was highly respected. I'm heading to Jordan next week to work there - not because the human rights situation is wonderful, but because it needs improvement.

toplexon10 karma

What exactly do you do to raise public awareness of the importance of freedom of the press?

Michael_Karanicolas16 karma

So, my shop in particular, the Centre for Law and Democracy, is not as much focused on raising awareness as we are on policy reform and capacity building. For example, one of our biggest recent projects has been in Myanmar, where we've been working with the government to open up the laws impacting free speech. At the same time, as this space has opened up, tons of new media outlets have appeared, which is great, but it creates a strong need for training and professionalism, so we've been working with young journalists on that, and to help establish a self-regulatory system for these new institutions.

More broadly, lots of different NGOs have their own events for WPFD, but the biggest is run by UNESCO, and is being held this year in Jakarta. It awards prizes, fosters workshops to discuss press freedom, etc. Our Director, /u/Toby_Mendel_ is there now, so hopefully he'll check in at some point and offer more information.

Cocanut_Milk8 karma

What are your thoughts on Edward Snowden in specific but other whistleblowers?

Michael_Karanicolas26 karma

Edward Snowden did the United States, and indeed the world, a great service by exposing illegal and incredibly abusive mass surveillance policies, and for that he's been exiled from his country and officially threatened with spending the rest of his life in jail and worse. International standards mandate that whistleblowers should not suffer any sanction for reporting in the public interest. His treatment by the US government has been atrocious.

StuckPenis8 karma

Like many people on reddit specifically, do you think Hebdo egged on those terrorist?

Michael_Karanicolas39 karma

No. It should go without saying that nobody deserves to be murdered for their speech. Provocation is not an excuse or justification by any means. The right to express controversial, or even offensive, opinions is incredibly important to ensuring a free and open discourse, and an attack on people for expressing ideas is an attack on democracy.

That said, I've been a bit uncomfortable to see them lionized, in some quarters, as champions of free speech, just for pushing the envelope. The people that operate on the edges aren't heroes just for being there - even though they have every right to do what they do.

StuckPenis16 karma

Great reply.

And just for the record i don't think they were heroes. I think they were just people expressing the freedoms that their nation offered. They were victims.

Michael_Karanicolas10 karma

Thanks, /u/StuckPenis, I always appreciate the discourse.

Carolus_Rexx5 karma

Why is it that government owned/government influenced media label themselves as thruth, while at the same time independent media that challenges the esteblishment is labeled as "fake news" by the esteblishment/government media. Isn't this entire "fake news" thing just an attempt by governments to shut down/discredit news sources that provide a point of vieuw that opposes the political ideology of the ruling government, while at the same time labeling the pro-esteblishment propaganda spread by government media as thruth? (Sorry for bad english, it isn't my first language)

Michael_Karanicolas8 karma

In many ways - yes. Those who work on freedom of expression know that the idea of "fake news" wasn't invented in 2016. It's long been used by repressive dictators for years to enforce a single (government approved) version of the story. Thus, when this debate ticked up in the aftermath of the 2016 election, it was inevitable that the discussion would be used by repressive forces to bolster abusive agenda. I've seen several new "fake news" laws proposed in the last few months, all of them hugely problematic. *ninja edit for grammar

Sumtwthfs5 karma

Hi there, thanks for doing the AMA! Do you think that potential misinformation (fake news) deserves to be restricted in order that 'credible' outlets reach the public? If so, how would you decide which is and isn't 'credible' as such? Once again, thank you so much for your time!

Michael_Karanicolas24 karma

No. Once you get into the business of restricting "fake news", you have to have an official source who determines what the truth is - a typical hallmark of authoritarianism.

That said, there are avenues that need to be explored around promoting media literacy and public education. Also, it may be fair to differentiate in the case of government sourced campaigns to spread disinformation - though that's an area that still needs a lot of thought.

joos115 karma

In the most open and inclusive of forums like Reddit let's say, where anyone can talk but nobody has to listen, should any speech or rhetoric or idea be off limits ?

Michael_Karanicolas13 karma

I think everyone believes that speech should have some limits. For example, you won't find many people defending death threats, or child exploitation images. The key is to craft restrictions around protecting against real and legitimate harms, and making them proportionate to promote a free and open discourse.

dghughes4 karma

What is your opinion on police targeting journalists by tracking the journalists' cell phones?

Michael_Karanicolas3 karma

This is a huge concern - and speaks to a growing problem that many colleagues have pointed to, namely that the surveillance State has grown beyond public accountability and control. The State spying on journalists is a direct threat to freedom of expression, and by extension to our democracies. We should be outraged, and demand proper oversight for our surveillance agencies.

_lmnoponml_3 karma

I've seen a world map on Reddit which ranks countries by press freedom. The US ranks among the highest. Is our press really considered "free" among press freedom circles or is this just because we are relatively free compared to other countries? Also how the heck are other countries functioning if their press has less freedom than ours??

Michael_Karanicolas12 karma

I think a global context is important when you think about this stuff. In a couple of weeks I'm heading to Jordan, a country where you CANNOT criticize the leader. Someone like Samantha Bee or John Oliver would be immediately jailed in a place like that. Earlier this year I was in Myanmar, a country where, just a few years ago, they had a prior censorship system where every issue of every newspaper or magazine had to be approved by government censors before it was published. I have colleagues that are on trial literally for just having a human rights NGO in Egypt. Compare it to these kinds of places, and you see why the US is considered relatively "free". Now - that doesn't mean that there aren't serious challenges, and in particular the messages we're hearing coming out of the Trump White House on "opening up" the laws to sue journalists more easily is very chilling. The US has an incredibly invasive surveillance system in place (which now reports to a man with absolutely zero ethical code about abusing human rights). The US has an atrocious record of persecuting whistleblowers like Edward Snowden. These are all very serious problems. There are much worse countries out there, of course, but I wouldn't take much comfort from that fact.

danmilligan3 karma

Hi! Here in Uganda the press is far from free. A couple years ago a newspaper critical of the government was shut down for some weeks by the police. Particularly in heavy-handed African governments, what kind of strategy can be used to reduce or eliminate this kind of occurrence?

Michael_Karanicolas4 karma

In a country like Uganda, constitutional challenges may be an option. Anything that can be done to reduce the stranglehold of Museveni is also key, of course. There are excellent groups working there that I would recommend you connect with to see what can be done - particularly Unwanted Witness, who have been our main partners in Uganda on freedom of expression issues. I can also recommend the African Freedom of Information Center, for right to information issues.

walkingthelinux3 karma

Why do you think this is the correct forum to discuss this?

It is well-known that Reddit is rigidly controlled / censored and only allows leftist viewpoints to be discussed (and in only the prescribed manner).

Michael_Karanicolas1 karma

First off, generally when we talk about freedom of expression we're mainly referring to governments, not private companies like Reddit.

But in general, I don't think your characterization is accurate. I'm obviously not in a position to peek under the hood at their algorithm, but this definitely doesn't appear to be a "rigidly controlled" space to me.

Fakeittillumakeit3 karma

How important do feel that Net Neutrality is as an aspect of freedom of expression/freedom of the press?

Michael_Karanicolas4 karma

Vitally important! And very troubling to hear talk about this principle being scrapped. If you're in the US - call your representatives, and sign onto campaigns like EFF that are leading the charge against these changes.

Jaz_the_Nagai2 karma

What if your freedom of expression offends me or other minorities or marginalized groups? What then?

Michael_Karanicolas4 karma

Freedom of expression includes a right to say offensive things, and to hurt people's feelings.

Crushsmokedafatbong2 karma

Do you think whistleblowers are contributing to freedom of expression?

Michael_Karanicolas2 karma

Yes. Whistleblowers shouldn't suffer any sanctions for reporting things in the public interest, and governments have a duty to protect them, rather than persecuting them.

DSM-61 karma

How big of a issue is funding in ensuring sufficient availability of news?

There have been frequent reports of news organisations closing intl offices or having to lay off reporters because of declining readerships. And I imagine that funding has to be a major problem in very poor countries, where relatively lower income may limit news organisations in providing high quality journalism.

What are possible ways to ensure that news organisations have sufficient funding to continue providing us with unbiased information?

Michael_Karanicolas1 karma

It's a huge issue. As I noted in another comment, the best long form journalism seems to be being produced at institutions that have independent sources of wealth - either from a trust, or State support, or from a rich owner. The best thing to do, as a consumer, is to support strong journalistic institutions, either by subscribing or donating, or by voting for candidates who pledge strong support to public service media outlets like the BBC or CBC, if your country has those.

Mozeeon1 karma

Many people have taken some of Donald Trump's tweets to indicate that he intends to attack the first amendment. Among you and your colleagues, is this a legitimate item to worry about?

Michael_Karanicolas3 karma

It is a concern, as my colleagues from IFJ have pointed out. That said, there are firm constitutional limits to what he can actually do, but even his contemptuous talk of the press is dangerous, coming from an elected leader. It could inspire others to violence, and genuinely degrades the vital role that the media play in a democracy.

jaffacake31 karma

Are human rights just a manifestation of American ideology?

Michael_Karanicolas5 karma

No. These are international ideas, and in many cases the American interpretations differs significantly from international standards. The key document here are international, like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a UN General Assembly resolution drafted by international experts.