Friday, February 4, 2011

Freedom of the Press as a Universal Value? Clinton, Carter, Canada, and WikiLeaks

Hillary Clinton, speaking as US Secretary of State, condemned violence against members of the press in Egypt, noting that "freedom of the press" is one of the pillars of an "open and inclusive society."  

  

 Meanwhile, in the United States itself, a complaint in federal court has been filed this week against former president Jimmy Carter and Simon & Schuster, the publisher of Carter's book, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid.  The cause of action is noteworthy: consumer protection statutes in New York prohibiting deceptive acts in the conduct of business and trade.  The complaint alleges:

5. Plaintiffs wish to be clear about what this lawsuit is not about. It is not in any way an attempt to challenge Defendant JIMMY CARTER's right to write a book, or Defendant SIMON & SCHUSTER's right to publish a book which serves as a forum for Carter to put forward his virulently ant-Israeli bias or any other agenda he or his financial backers wish to put forward. Nor do Plaintiffs challenge his right to use falsehood, misrepresentations and omissions, misleading statements, or outright lies, all of which characterize this book, to further his agenda. Indeed, Plaintiffs fully recognize that, such an agenda from Defendant JIMMY CARTER should come as no surprise, given his well known bias against Israel and the interests of Israel's sworn enemies who have given millions of dollars to support the Carter Center and Defendant JIMMY CARTER's work.
 
6. Rather, Plaintiffs bring this action to challenge Defendants' actions in deceiving the public by promoting and selling this Book as a factually accurate account in all regards of the events its purports to depict, rather than truthfully and accurately promoting and selling it as the anti-Israel screed that it is, intentionally presenting untrue and inaccurate accounts of historically recorded events, as witnesses to and participants in such events pointedly have come forward to declare. This lawsuit challenges the Defendants actions in attempting to capitalize on Carter's status as a former President of the United States to mislead unsuspecting members of the reading public who thought they could trust their former President to tell the truth.
 
7. The Plaintiffs are members of the reading public who thought they could trust a former President of the United States and a well-established book publisher to tell the truth and who paid to get the truth from the Defendants, but were deceived when they learned that the Book is characterized instead by falsehoods, misrepresentations, misleading statements,omissions of material facts, and outright lies designed to mislead and misstate the facts concerning the important subject it purports to address and the underlying historical record.

 The Complaint then proceeds to list specific instances of facts as portrayed in the book and seeks to refute those facts.   A representative from Simon and Schuster, via the Washington Post, characterized the complaint as "a chilling attack on free speech that we intend to defend vigorously.”

North of the US Border, the Supreme Court of Canada considered the companion cases of Canadian Broadcasting Corporation v. Canada (Attorney General), 2011 SCC 2, and Canadian Broadcasting Corporation v. Canada, 2011 SCC 3, which involve "the interrelationship of freedom of the press, the open court principle and the fair administration of justice."  At issue in the Attorney General appeal was the constitutionality of rules prohibiting broadcasting recordings of hearings and on conducting interviews, filming and taking photographs in court; the other appeal involved a prohibition on broadcasting of a video recording tendered in evidence at trial.  A good discussion of the cases is available from our colleagues at the Canada Supreme Court blog.  In both cases, the Supreme Court of Canada upheld the constitutionality of the banning of the press:

The right to freedom of expression is just as fundamental in our society as the open court principle.  It fosters democratic discourse, truth finding and self‑fulfilment.  Freedom of the press has always been an embodiment of freedom of expression.  It is also the main vehicle for informing the public about court proceedings.  In this sense, freedom of the press is essential to the open court principle.  Nevertheless, it is sometimes necessary to harmonize the exercise of freedom of the press with the open court principle to ensure that the administration of justice is fair.  . . . . this Court must determine whether certain rules are consistent with the delicate balance between this right, this principle and this objective, all of which are essential in a free and democratic society.

This balancing is familiar to US scholars as the First Amendment/ Sixth Amendment conflicts in landmark cases such as Sheppard v. Maxwell.

The continuing controversy surrounding Wikileaks tests commitment to freedom of the press in many nations.  The Guardian of the UK, which has published much of the Wikileaks material, is an excellent source of updates and information.  In a comment today, journalist Clay Shirkey notes the ways in which Wikileaks "freedom of the press" is a transnational phenomenon, not bound by specific national laws, and presumably constitutional norms.  Both The Guardian and the New York Times have published books about the newspapers dealings with Wikileaks: The Guardian book is Wikileaks: Inside Julian Assange's War on Secrecy, and is available as an ebook and forthcoming in paperback.  The NYT book, Open Secrets: Wikileaks, War, and American Diplomacy, is available only as an ebook.    The NYT Magazine published an adapted introduction to Open Secrets by journalist Bill Keller.

ConLawProfs teaching freedom of the press this semester should be able to use any - - - or all - - - of these situations to foster a great class discussion or a more focused class project.

RR

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Comments

Going after Assange is actually a threat to the very thing which the government purports to be protecting: freedom. Freedom of speech and ideas.

Apart from which.... no-one should fear truth.

FYI, all the Wikileaks videos are on this hub:
http://wikileaks.videohq.tv

Posted by: Nicola Weaver | Feb 4, 2011 7:07:59 AM

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