Access to Public Information, Content Regulation / Censorship
Multichoice (Pty) Limited v. National Prosecuting Authority
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The European Court of Human Rights found that the blocking of YouTube in Turkey violated the right to freedom of expression. The case had been brought by law professors at different universities who had, over a long period of time, been unable to access YouTube and who claimed that this violated their right to receive and impart information and ideas. The Court agreed, holding that YouTube is a unique platform for the dissemination of information, especially with regard to social and political matters, and of great importance to citizen journalism.
In 2008, an Ankara Criminal Court found that ten pages on the YouTube video sharing website infringed a criminal law prohibition on insulting the memory of the founder of the modern State of Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, and imposed a blocking order on the entire website.
The applicants, Turkish law professors, applied to have the blocking order set aside and argued that the restriction interfered with their right to receive and impart information and ideas. They argued that the blocking order had impacted their professional academic activities, and also that there was a wider public interest in having access to YouTube. They stated that they used the platform to access videos relating to their professional activities as well as to download and further share these materials. Some of the applicants also published recordings about their academic activities on the site.
Their appeal was dismissed by the Ankara Criminal Court of First Instance on the ground that the blocking order had been imposed in accordance with the law and that the applicants did not have standing to challenge the order. A further blocking order was imposed by the Ankara Criminal Court of First Instance in 2010. This was also appealed, but the appeal was dismissed by the Ankara Criminal Court. The applicants then appealed to the European Court of Human Rights.
The European Court of Human Rights began by examining whether the applicants could be considered as “victims” of a human rights violation, and thus whether they had standing before the Court. It noted that the applicants had actively used YouTube for professional purposes, and that YouTube was a singular platform which enabled information of specific interest, particularly on political and social matters. The Court observed that YouTube constituted an important source of information, and that the blocking order restricted access to specific information that could not accessed by any other means. The Court also noted that YouTube was a platform which fostered the emergence of citizen journalism, imparting political information not conveyed by traditional media.
The Court therefore accepted that in the present case YouTube had been an important means by which the applicants exercised their right to receive and impart information and ideas, and that the applicants had been affected in the enjoyment of this right by the blocking order even though they had not been directly targeted by it.
The Court considered that the blocking order could be regarded as an interference by a public authority with the right to freedom of expression. It had been imposed under section 8(1) of Law no. 5651. In the earlier case of Ahmet Yıldırım v. Turkey, the Court had already found that this did not authorize the blocking of access to an entire Internet site on account of just some of its contents. Under section 8(1), a blocking order could be imposed on a specific publication only when there were grounds to suspect that an offense had been committed. When the Ankara Criminal Court imposed the blocking order, there had been no statutory provision giving courts the power to do so.
The Court held, furthermore, that the authorities should have taken into account that the blocking of the entire website would block access to a large quantity of information, and that it would inevitably considerably affect the rights of internet users and have a substantial collateral effect.
For these reasons, the Court concluded that the blocking order did not satisfy the condition that an interference with the right to freedom of expression be prescribed by law, and found that it violated the right to freedom of expression.
Decision Direction indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.
This case expands expression because it upholds the right of recipients of information to have access to Internet websites. It establishes furthermore that blocking an entire Internet domain because some pages on that domain violate domestic law constitutes a violation of the right to freedom of expression.
Global Perspective demonstrates how the court’s decision was influenced by standards from one or many regions.
Case significance refers to how influential the case is and how its significance changes over time.
Judgments of the European Court of Human Rights are binding on the State against which the case has been taken, and constitute an authoritative interpretation of the meaning of convention rights in particular scenarios.
Judgments of the European Court of Human Rights are influential outside Europe, and are frequently referred to by other human rights courts and tribunals as well as by domestic courts of appeal and constitutional courts.
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