Promoting and Protecting Free Speech and Free Expression

Lynn Oberlander is First Look Media’s General Counsel, Media Operations

Promoting and protecting free speech and free expression are paramount to First Look’s mission. Today we are announcing the establishment of our Press Freedom Litigation Fund, a program that will provide legal support to journalists and others engaged in contests where freedom of the press is at stake in the U.S. and abroad.

Press freedom is enshrined in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution as well as in international charters and conventions.  A free press contributes to an informed citizenry and protects against corruption and government malfeasance. As Thomas Jefferson declared, “when the press is free and every man able to read, all is safe.”  Yet the cost of protecting these rights often imposes too heavy a burden on journalists and their employers. FLM’s Press Freedom Litigation Fund is designed to strengthen the ability of journalists to pursue legal fights where a substantial public interest is at stake. Grants under the program can be used to fund challenges to government policies or actions that restrict press freedoms or denials of freedom of information act requests; motions to quash subpoenas seeking source information or journalistic material; defamation cases where the underlying report concerns a matter of public interest; access cases to closed proceedings or sealed documents; and amicus efforts in support of press freedom.  There must be a substantial public benefit to any litigation receiving a grant.

Our first grant will be to support the appeal in the case of Miranda v. Secretary of State for the Home Department, in the UK Court of Appeal.

Last August 18, David Miranda, the partner of Glenn Greenwald, was detained in London’s Heathrow Airport for nine hours under Schedule 7 of the UK Terrorism Act 2000, which allows police to question someone suspected of acts of terrorism.

The authorities seized the files and storage devices that Mr. Miranda was transporting for Mr. Greenwald (at the time of the detention, Glenn Greenwald was a columnist for The Guardian; he is now a writer for, and a founding editor of, The Intercept, an FLM publication). Mr. Miranda immediately filed a suit against the Secretary of State for the Home Department and the Commissioner of Police arguing, among other things, that the detention and seizure of the journalistic material without judicial oversight violated Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which protects freedom of expression.  A significant group of human rights and press freedom organizations filed statements and legal briefs in support of Mr. Miranda’s case, including English PEN, Liberty, the International Federation of Journalists and the Media Law Resource Center, arguing that the actions of the police significantly interfered with press freedom. Unfortunately, the High Court issued a decision rejecting Mr. Miranda’s claims in February 2014.

But the Court of Appeals has recently granted permission to appeal and the appeal raises significant questions of public importance concerning whether and how the UK’s anti-terrorism laws should be applied to journalists and their work product. A decision in Mr. Miranda’s favor will have wide-ranging implications for the practice of journalism worldwide, affirming the rights of journalists to travel and to protect their source information.  Conversely, if the judgment of the High Court is upheld on appeal, it is likely to have a very significant chilling effect on news organizations and will affect whether journalists and their agents travel through the UK. Moreover, in the UK, the losing party pays the winner’s legal fees, even in cases against the government,  making it extremely difficult for a person or company of normal resources to challenge the legitimacy of government practices.  FLM will be providing financial support to Mr. Miranda’s attorneys to cover their fees on the appeal.

First Look Media strongly believes that a free press and an informed citizenry are vital to democracy.  First Look is working through our journalism as well as our grant programs to protect and uphold the rights of the press everywhere to report on sensitive and controversial information in the public interest.  The Intercept is publishing groundbreaking reports on national security and surveillance.  Our second digital magazine, helmed by Matt Taibbi, will feature investigative journalism, along with commentary, media criticism, and satire and will launch later this year.

In May, we announced a round of grants to three non-profit organizations at the forefront of integrating freedom of the press with technology: Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press; Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Freedom of the Press Foundation.  The Press Freedom Litigation Fund is the next step in our mission to enhance the rights of journalists and the press in this country and abroad.

A committee of senior leadership at FLM will decide which cases we will support, and at what level.  Journalists or lawyers who are seeking such support should contact us via email at litigationsupportprogram@firstlook.org and should include a proposed litigation budget as well as a description of how the litigation at issue furthers press freedom.

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