Cases & Projects
MLDI urges European Court to reject "false news" laws
MLDI has urged the European Court of Human Rights to declare that so-called "false news" laws violate the right to freedom of expression.
On 15 March 2012, the Media Legal Defence Initiative filed a submission with the European Court of Human Rights in the case of Dareskizb Ltd v Armenia, arguing that laws prohibiting the publication of “false news” are incompatible with the right to freedom of expression.
The applicant in the case publishes the Armenian Times, a daily newspaper. Following election unrest and declaration of a state of emergency early in 2008, publication of several editions of the newspaper was prohibited on the basis of presidential decrees that prohibited the publishing of, amongst other things, "false or destabilising information”.
In its submission to the Court, MLDI argues that prohibiting the publication of "false news" should not be permitted under any circumstances. False news laws have a serious chilling effect on the work of the press, and are open to abuse. States generally have sufficient means at their disposal to refute false statements and do not need to criminalize false news to do so. Another concern is that falsity if hard to define: it is often difficult to separate fact from opinion, or fact from truth.
MLDI argues that even a state of emergency cannot justify the prohibition of “false” news. Besides the fact that such laws are unlikely to be effective in the age of Twitter, Facebook, instant messaging and other rapid forms of communication, they are likely to be used by States to repress dissent and validate the dissemination of one-sided, State-dominated news. Particularly around elections, and even when a state of emergency has been declared, it is important to have a variety of different news sources.
In sum, MLDI argues that no true democracy should have to avail itself of legislation proscribing false news.
MLDI's submission can be downloaded here.
MLDI acknowledges the assistance of Finers Stephens Innocent and Harvey Kass, and is grateful to Mark Simpson QC and Jessica Simor for drafting the submissions