Global Freedom of Expression

1 May

“Weaponizing the Law: Attacks on Media Freedom.” Findings and Discussion with Guest Experts on Salient Points and Solutions

  • 2:00pm-3:30pm ET (New York)
  • Riverside Church, Conference Room 527 (5th Floor of the MLK Tower)
    91 Claremont Ave, corner of 120th Street, Between Broadway and Riverside Drive
    New York, NY 10027
    United States

Sponsored by Columbia GFoE, Thomson Reuters Foundation and Tow Center for Digital Journalism   

The Tow Center for Digital Journalism and Thomson Reuters Foundation (TRF) will share key findings from their recently launched research titled Weaponizing the Law: Attacks on Media Freedom. The research is a first-of-its-kind report that draws on the insights of media law experts and journalists from around the world to provide a global overview of these sweeping threats to a free press. The presentation of the report by Joel Simon, Founding Director of the Journalism Protection Initiative at the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism, will be followed by a high-level discussion with leading media defence experts, researchers and media freedom experts to be moderated by Antonio Zappulla, CEO of TRF, that will focus on identifying future research and data collection needed to map in more detail the scale, nature and geographic reach of these threats and how they impact journalists and the media ecosystem. This ongoing exploration of global trends will be critical to enable advocacy groups, the legal community, democratic governments, intergovernmental organisations and journalists themselves to confront and counter these threats.


  • Hawley Jonhson, Associate Director, Global Freedom of Expression
  • Antonio Zappulla, CEO, Thomson Reuters Foundation
  • Ona Flores, co-author of the report; International human rights lawyer and international press freedom expert
  • Joel Simon, co-author of the report; founding director of the Journalism Protection Initiative at the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism in New York City.
  • Carlos Lauria, co-author of the report; Journalist and international press freedom expert
Hawley Johnson – Associate Director, Global Freedom of Expression, Columbia University

Dr. Hawley Johnson is the Associate Director of Columbia Global Freedom of Expression. Since 2014 she has managed the development of the Case Law Database which hosts analyses of seminal freedom of expression court rulings from more than 130 countries. Hawley has over twelve years of experience in international media development both academically and professionally, with a focus on Eastern Europe. From 2013-2014 she worked with the award-winning Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project to launch the Investigative Dashboard (ID), a joint effort with Google Ideas offering specialized databases and research tools for journalists in emerging democracies. Previously, as the Associate Director of the Media and Conflict Resolution Program at New York University, she oversaw the implementation of over eight US government sponsored media development programs in eleven countries. In 2012, she completed her Ph.D. in Communications at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism. Her dissertation – a study of the evolution of media development policies in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo and Macedonia – was grounded in extensive field research in the region. She has a M.A. from Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs and a B.A. in International Affairs from the School of International Service at American University.

Antonio Zappulla – CEO, Thomson Reuters Foundation

Antonio Zappulla is CEO of the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the corporate foundation of the global news and information services company. Through news, media development, free legal assistance and convening initiatives, the Thomson Reuters Foundation combines its unique services to advance media freedom, raise awareness of human rights issues, and foster more inclusive economies working as a strategic player in the international development space.

In 2022, Antonio was named an Official of the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic for “merit acquired by the Nation in the fields of public service, social, philanthropic and humanitarian activities”. In 2019, he was named a European Young Leader by Friends of Europe, and in 2018, ranked first in the OUTstanding list of LGBT+ Executives (public sector/philanthropy) published by the Financial Times.

Antonio is a One Young World Ambassador and sits on the boards of the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford, the International News Safety Institute (INSI) and Open for Business.

Prior to his present role, Antonio was Director of Communications and COO at the Thomson Reuters Foundation, and Executive Producer at Bloomberg Television in charge of news, factual programming and documentaries for Europe, Middle East and Africa, developing award-winning TV series.

Ona Flores – Legal Researcher

Ona Flores is an international human rights lawyer with more than 15 years of experience working in the Inter-American human rights system and engaging with the UN human rights mechanisms. From 2018 to 2021 she was Civic Freedoms Research Advisor for the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law, where she worked as lead researcher for the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of peaceful assembly and of association. Previously, she served as Senior Staff Attorney at the Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

Joel Simon – Director, Journalism Protection Initiative, Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism

Joel Simon is the founding director of the Journalism Protection Initiative at the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism, at the City University of New York. During 2022, Simon was a fellow at the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University, and a Senior Research Fellow at the Knight First Amendment Institute, also at Columbia. From 2006 to 2021 he served as the executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Carlos Lauría – Lead Researcher

Carlos Lauría, from Argentina, is a journalist and international press freedom expert. From 2017 to 2021 he headed the freedom of expression portfolio of the Open Society Foundation’s program on independent journalism. Previously, he served for 15 years as program director and senior coordinator for the Americas program at the Committee to Protect Journalists. He settled in New York City in 1994 as US bureau chief for Argentina’s largest magazine publisher, Editorial Perfil.