Content Regulation / Censorship, Defamation / Reputation, Political Expression
The Case of Sarawak Report and Malaysia Insider
Closed Expands Expression
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A U.S. District Court determined that the Espionage Act did not prohibit the publication or distribution of cartoons critical of U.S. government actions and that the failure of the Postal Service to deliver the magazine would violate the First Amendment. The Plaintiff’s monthly magazine published four cartoons, with text, that criticized United States involvement in WWI, which the Defendant-Postmaster refused to deliver, claiming that they violated the Espionage Act of 1917. The court found that the cartoons were opinions protected by the First Amendment and could not be censored or suppressed by the government.
The Espionage Act of 1917 prohibits anyone from making “false statements with the intent to interfere with the operation or success of the military or naval forces of the United States or promote the success of its enemies;” “forbids any one from willfully causing insubordination, disloyalty, mutiny, or refusal of duty in the military or naval forces of the United States;” and “forbids any willful obstruction of the recruiting or enlistment service of the United States.”
Plaintiff’s monthly magazine published four cartoons, with text, that criticized the U.S.’s involvement in World War I. The Defendant-Postmaster refused to deliver the magazines, claiming that they violated the Espionage Act of 1917. Plaintiff filed a preliminary injunction, requesting that the Court require the Defendant to deliver its magazine because failure to do so violated the First Amendment right to freedom of speech, expression, and press.
Judge Learned Hand determined that the Espionage Act does not prohibit the publication or distribution of the cartoons by mail, that the Plaintiff was not in violation of the Espionage Act, and that failure of the Defendant-Postmaster to mail the magazine would violate the First Amendment. The Court found that the cartoons and texts, although critical of the U.S. government, were opinions protected by the First Amendment, and accordingly, they could not be censored or suppressed by the government.
The opinion was subsequently reversed.
Decision Direction indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.
The Court’s Opinion expands expression because it recognizes the importance of a citizen’s right to criticize his or her government. The Court found that none of the cartoons incited insubordination or mutiny, but rather, they were a means of expressing opinion. The Court also recognized that one must analyze the actual words or pictures of the speaker, as opposed to the possible effect or likely result dervied from the publishing of the cartoons and text.
Judge Learned Hand’s Opinion is also significant because, as an early freedom of speech case, at the time it was not widely accepted by other judges. However, over time, the decision paved the way for other freedom of speech Opinions that expanded the right to 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.
It took many years after this decision for the U.S. courts began to expand freedom of expression case law.
Let us know if you notice errors or if the case analysis needs revision.