Media Legal Defence Initiative
The Media Legal Defence Initiative (MLDI) (or Media Legal Defense Initiative) is a non-governmental organization established in 2008 to provide legal assistance to journalists (including bloggers) and independent media. It also supports training in media law and promotes the exchange of information, litigation tools and strategies for lawyers working on media freedom cases.
It is based in London and has a global network of media lawyers and media freedom activists with whom it works on cases and projects.
The idea for the Media Legal Defence Initiative originated in the aftermath of the criminal defamation trial in 2004 of Indonesian newspaperman Bambang Harymurti, editor of Tempo magazine (Indonesia). A group of people involved in assisting the defence of Harymurti recognised the need for an independent non-governmental organisation that would focus on providing legal support to journalists and media outlets around the world who needed assistance to defend their rights, as well as work to improve the capacity of lawyers in Southeast Asia and elsewhere to defend media freedom.
The Media Legal Defence Initiative was established as a not for profit company in June 2008 and registered as an independent charitable organisation in 2009. Gugulethu Moyo was Executive Director of MLDI from June 2009 until July 2011. Peter Noorlander was Chief Executive between April 2011 and April 2016.
Assistance has been provided in the form of grants to individual litigants for the payment of legal fees, grants to support the work of national non-governmental organizations that provide legal services to the media, and free legal advice.
The Media Legal Defence Initiative has also given grants to enable the training and networking of media lawyers in countries including Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Cambodia and the Philippines.
Notable cases supported
MLDI has supported the legal defence of numerous journalists, including:
- Burundi Journalists' Union v. Burundi, at the East African Court of Justice. MLDI represented the Journalists Union with Don Deya arguing the matter before the EACJ;
- Lohé Issa Konaté v. Burkina Faso, the first free speech case before the African Court of Human and Peoples' Rights which ruled that the imprisonment for defamation of a journalist from Burkina Faso violated his rights and ordered the country to change its laws. MLDI's Legal Director, Nani Jansen, represented Lohé Issa Konaté v. Burkina Faso before the Court alongside John Jones QC and Steven Finizio;
- MLDI contributed to the defence costs of Al Jazeera journalist Mohamed Fahmy, on trial in Egypt on charges of being part of a terrorist group, broadcasting “false news, and operating without adequate licences”;
- The appeal to the European Court of Human Rights of Emin Milli and Adnan Hajizade, two Azeri bloggers who uploaded a satirical video featuring an interview with a violin-playing donkey onto YouTube. In response they were beaten up - and then arrested and imprisoned for affray;
- The defence of Thai webmaster Chiranuch Premchaiporn in her criminal case for allowing comments that were critical of the Thai monarchy to appear on news and current affairs website, Prachatai;
- The defence of Nigerian corruption and human rights website Sahara Reporters in several multimillion-dollar libel suits launched against it in the United States;
- The defence of Ugandan journalist Patrick Otim, wrongly accused of treason and imprisoned for two years;
- The defence of Kenyan journalist Bernard Okebe, false accused of attempting to bribe the police following a story on police corruption;
- The defence of Thai newspaper columnist Kamol Kamoltrakul in a multimillion-dollar defamation case brought against him in 2008 by Tesco Lotus, the Southeast Asian subsidiary of Tesco PLC, the world's second largest supermarket chain. Mr Kamoltrakol had criticised Tesco Lotus for driving homegrown small businesses out of existence. After much pressure Tesco eventually dropped the case;
- Raynor v. Richardson, which overturned Bermuda's criminal libel statute;
- Wattan TV's appeal to the Israeli High Court for compensation and damages, following an illegal army raid on their offices;
- A case brought against Ugandan police brought by two journalists who were beaten up when they tried to film a story critical of the police;
- The defence in 2009 and subsequent appeal to the UN Human Rights Committee of the libel case of Almas Kusherbaev, a Kazakh journalist who criticised the involvement of a Kazakh politician, Romin Madinov, in the trade of grain which has pushed up the price of bread in the country;
- The defence of Rwandan journalists Agnes Uwimana and Saidat Mukakibibi, for which it send a legal team consisting of MLDI's Legal Counsel Nani Jansen and barrister John Jones to conduct the defence of the case alongside Rwandan counsel. Initially convicted on multiple counts of genocide denial and endangering national security and sentenced to seventeen and seven years, an MLDI-supported Supreme Court appeal saw the two acquitted on all charges save defamation of the president and one count of endangering national security and the sentences reduced. The case is currently pending before the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights.
The MLDI has been invited to intervene as amicus curiae in the European Court of Human Rights in the cases of Von Hannover v. Germany (2) (application no. 40660/08), adjudicated in February, 2012, on the balance between privacy and freedom of expression,MGN Trinity Mirror v. UK, in which it argued that the high cost of defending libel cases violates the right to freedom of expression, and Pauliukas v. Lithuania in 2009. The European Court issued a strong ruling agreeing with MLDI's submissions in the MGN case. Along with others, MLDI also intervened in Max Mosley's application to the European Court of Human Rights, as to whether there should be advance notice given to targets in privacy cases, and Sanoma v Netherlands a case addressing the protection of journalistic sources. In both cases, its arguments were accepted by the Court. It has interventions pending in a case challenging so-called "false news" laws, prohibiting the publication of anything the authorities deem to be incorrect; and in a case concerning the abuse of criminal libel laws.
The Media Legal Defence Initiative has also been at the forefront of a campaign at the Council of Europe to address the impact that counter-terrorism laws are having on media freedom. The Council's campaign has resulted in a pledge by States to review these laws.
With the IBA and others, MLDI also supports the development of media lawyers network in Southeast Asia.
The Media Legal Defence Initiative works with a large network of partner organisations and individual lawyers around the world. Its partners include the Mass Media Defence Centre (Russia), the Center for International Law (Philippines), the Human Rights Network for Journalists (Uganda), the Center for Independent Journalism (Moldova), the Serbian Union of Journalists and LBPH Pers (Indonesia). Individual lawyers it works with include Mark Stephens CBE, Geoffrey Robertson QC, John Jones, Mark Simpson QC, Heather Rogers QC and Jessica Simor in the UK, Kurt Wimmer, Rob Balin, and Stuart Karle in the US, Mulya Lubis in Indonesia, Professor Harry Roque in the Philippines, James Nangwala in Uganda and others across the world.
Organisation and funding
The Media Legal Defence Initiative is registered as a charity in the United Kingdom. Param Cumaraswamy, Professor Yuen-Ying Chan, Jon Snow, Adam Michnik, Geoffrey Robertson QC, Floyd Abrams, José Zalaquett, Paul Collier, Hina Jilani, Margaret Sekaggya and Soli Sorabjee are patrons.
MLDI also has an International Advisory Board which includes Bambang Harymurti, Eduardo Bertoni, Beatrice Mtetwa, Mark Stephens CBE (Chair), Karinna Moskalenko, Cyril Shroff and Stuart Karle. Its trustees are Gwyneth Henderson, Martin Kramer, Stephen Tough, Professor Philip Leach, Mark Ellis and Wilf Mbanga.
Since it was established, the Media Legal Defence Initiative has received funding from donors including the Open Society Institute, the Sigrid Rausing Trust, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the William F Kerby And Robert S Potter Fund, the Adessium Foundation, Google, the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency and the MacArthur Foundation.
MLDI's Chief Executive is Lucy Freeman.
- MLDI - a short history
- Report from the Malaysian Bar Human Rights Group
- http://www.pressgazette.co.uk/story.asp?storycode=43358 Press Gazette, CFA 'unjustifiable restriction on freedom of expression'
- Text of the submission
- Text of the submission
- "Mosley case intervention on privacy laws to European Court of Human Rights'" - Finers Stephens Innocent
- address by MLDI's legal director to the Committee of Ministers
- the Guardian, Freedom of expression must be protected, says Council of Europe
- Soros Network 2008 Annual Report
- See http://www.sigrid-rausing-trust.org/Grantees/Media-Legal-Defence-Initiative
- List of recent MacArthur Foundation grants