free speech

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Pakistan: Media faces threats, abductions ahead of vote | Associated Press

When Pakistan’s military spokesman held a press conference earlier this month on emerging threats, Matiullah Jan, a journalist who has written critically of the judiciary and the military, was surprised to see his own picture flash on the screen. The spokesman, Gen. Asif Ghafoor, said Jan and a handful of other journalists and bloggers were anti-state and anti-military. Those are serious allegations in Pakistan, where the military has ruled, directly or indirectly, for most of the country’s history, and where rights groups say it is waging an unprecedented campaign of intimidation ahead of next month’s elections. “He wasn’t specific,” Jan said of the press conference. “But he tried to paint everyone on the so-called slide prepared by intelligence reports with a broad brush as being anti-state and anti-army. 

Full Article: Pakistan's media faces threats, abductions ahead of vote - Khaleej Times.

Russia: Pollster pulls pre-election research over closure fears | Reuters

Russia’s only major independent pollster, the Levada Center, said on Tuesday it had stopped publishing polls about the forthcoming presidential election because it feared the authorities might shut it down for perceived meddling. The move, which the Kremlin later endorsed as a necessary step to comply with the law, will reduce open source information about public sentiment ahead of the March 18 election which polls suggest incumbent Vladimir Putin, who is backed by state TV and the ruling party, will comfortably win. Levada is regarded as one of Russia’s three main pollsters and the only one not to be close to the authorities. But it was officially designated ‘a foreign agent’ in 2016 because of its funding, a move it and others said was designed to hobble it.

Full Article: Russian pollster pulls pre-election research over closure fears.

Editorials: Why Banning Russian Facebook Ads Might Be Impossible | Richard Hasen/Politico

Lost amid the debate over whether Facebook can be trusted to police itself to stop Russian and other foreign interference in future U.S. elections or whether new legislation is necessary to accomplish this task is a potential insuperable roadblock to effective regulation: the conservative justices on the United States Supreme Court and their views of the First Amendment. Facebook, facing tremendous political pressure to reveal how Russia tried to influence the outcome of the 2016 election campaign through targeted Facebook advertising, recently revealed that entities backed by the Russian government purchased up to $150,000 in advertising aimed at promoting Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton. Then, last week, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced voluntary steps the company said it would take to assure greater transparency in political ads.

Full Article: Why Banning Russian Facebook Ads Might Be Impossible - POLITICO Magazine.

Editorials: Donald Trump Jr.’s free speech defense is as bogus as it sounds. | Richard Hasen/Slate

Get ready for the latest defense for Donald Trump Jr.’s actions: He had a First Amendment right to collude with the Russians to get dirt on Hillary Clinton. This defense, which has been advanced by noted First Amendment expert Eugene Volokh and others, posits that he cannot be charged under campaign finance laws for soliciting a foreign contribution because seeking and providing such information would be protected political speech, or at least protected for an American to receive. It’s a dangerous argument which fails to recognize the compelling interest promoted by Congress’s ban on foreign contributions: specifically guarding American self-government against foreign intrusion. Let’s first start with the statute Trump Jr. may have violated. Federal law makes it a potential crime for any person to “solicit” (that is, expressly or impliedly ask for) the contribution of “anything of value” from a foreign citizen. While we do not know enough to say that Trump Jr. should be charged with violating this statute, emails released by Trump Jr. himself on Tuesday (as the New York Times was about to report on them) provide more than enough detail to merit an investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller.

Full Article: Donald Trump Jr.’s free speech defense is as bogus as it sounds..

Serbia: Amid a Murky Media Landscape, Serbia Prepares to Elect a President | The New York Times

When he was Serbia’s information minister in the late 1990s, Aleksandar Vucic censored journalists, forced media critics out of business and served as chief propagandist for the regime of Slobodan Milosevic, the Serbian strongman reviled for the atrocities that followed the breakup of Yugoslavia. Today Mr. Vucic is the prime minister of Serbia, having been elected in 2014 as a reformer on promises to lead Serbia into a democratic future and membership in the European Union. He has renounced the extreme nationalist views of his past. Western leaders rely on him as a partner to maintain calm within the Serbian minorities in Kosovo and Bosnia, to support their migration policies and to keep sufficient distance from Russia — even though Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin, has professed his support for Mr. Vucic.

Full Article: Serbia Prepares to Elect a President Amid a Murky Media Landscape - The New York Times.

Canada: British Columbia Election Act challenged in Supreme Court of Canada | CBC

A section of B.C.’s Election Act that restricts advertising is being challenged this morning in the Supreme Court of Canada. The B.C. Freedom of Information and Privacy Association is challenging the law, arguing it restricts freedom of expression in this province, and that it should include an exception for third parties spending less than $500 on election advertising. Section 239 of B.C.’s Election Act says election advertising sponsors must register with the chief electoral officer. The B.C. Civil Liberties Association is an intervener in the case. Lawyer Laura Track said the association is concerned the law is too broad.

Full Article: B.C. Election Act challenged in Supreme Court of Canada - British Columbia - CBC News.

Russia: Putin Shuts Down Last Russian Independent Pollster In Anticipation of Russian and US Elections | Forbes

Vladimir Putin has based his claim to legitimacy on his high favorability ratings, the anchor of which has been the “independent” Levada Center, headed by the prominent Russian sociologist, Lev Gudkov. Among Levada’s claim to impartiality is its ties with foreign academic heavy weights from top universities and think tanks. The Kremlin has other polling organizations, such as VTSIOM, but they are viewed as doing the bidding of the Russian government.  A Levada finding of high Putin ratings is worth its weight in gold to Putin and his regime. He has decided to throw this asset to the wolves. On September 6, Putin’s Ministry of Justice classified the Levada Center a “foreign agent,” citing its foreign ties with Columbia, George Washington, and Columbia Universities and with polling organizations such as Gallup, MORI, and Ipsos. Levada stands accused of working in the interests of these foreign entities. Although the “foreign agent” label does not automatically shut down Levada, the September 6 issue of Kommersant cites Gudkov as stating “the work of our organization has been in fact stopped.” The content of the article, however, has mysteriously disappeared, meaning that the Kremlin does not want this news circulating. Moscow speaks (Govorit Moskva) confirms that Levada is appealing the foreign-agent classification and has ceased its polling work. In shutting down Levada, Putin can no longer claim high ratings confirmed by respected independent pollsters. His favorability ratings form the core of his regime. Putin could pay a high price for this move, but he has decided the benefits outweigh the costs.

Full Article: Putin Shuts Down Last Russian Independent Pollster In Anticipation of Russian and US Elections.

Russia: Polling agency is victim as Kremlin opts to shoot the messenger | CS Monitor

With less than two weeks to go before parliamentary elections, and the ratings of the ruling United Russia party dropping fast, the Kremlin has apparently decided to shoot the messenger. The Levada Center, Russia’s only independent public opinion agency, was forced to stop work this week, a move that critics of the Kremlin read as an effort to block public perceptions that the ruling party’s popularity is plunging – even though nobody is directly disputing the highly respected organization’s findings. The Kremlin has pledged that voting on Sept. 18 will be open and transparent, so as not to lead to the kind of mass protests that erupted following allegedly fraud-tainted elections five years ago.

Full Article: Russian polling agency is victim as Kremlin opts to shoot the messenger -

Thailand: Prime Minister bans discussion of Thailand draft constitution ahead of referendum | Washington Times

Thailand’s new constitution was supposed to bring at least the appearance of legitimacy and normalcy for the government of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha. But with a month to go before a national referendum, critics and human rights activists say a law essentially banning any real discussion of the document is just the latest sign that little is likely to change two* years after Mr. Prayuth seized power in a military coup. Thailand’s Constitutional Court last week upheld a law that metes out 10 years in prison to anyone who voices an opinion — pro or con — about the government-backed draft constitution or campaigns for or against it before a nationwide Aug. 7 referendum. Monitoring of the vote by opposition groups, the United Nations or international rights activists is also blocked.

Full Article: Prayuth Chan-ocha bans discussion of Thailand draft constitution ahead of referendum - Washington Times.

Voting Blogs: Again Before the Supreme Court: Can There Be “Issues Speech” During Campaigns? | More Soft Money Hard Law

The Supreme Court will soon decide whether to take up a major case about disclosure and this has received little attention—far less than it should. At issue is the clarification of how far government authority extends in requiring the disclosure of the financing of “issues speech”–speech or just information about candidates’ positions that does not involve engaging in advocacy of their election or defeat. There are reasons why the case might have been overlooked: it involves a small organization in a small state, and the activity concerns state and local, not federal (much less presidential), candidates. Perhaps, also, because it is “just” about disclosure, this case might be supposed to pose little danger of harm to anyone’s rights or legitimate expectations. This is serious business. As the states move along with their own reform programs, and as litigation proceeds under different standards applied by different circuits and diminishing consistency in the treatment of federal and state or local-level enactment, disclosure doctrine is losing its coherence, and key constitutional distinctions once taken for granted are being rapidly eroded. One disturbing result: the “big” and sophisticated spenders at the federal level are more protected than the “little guy” at the levels below.

Full Article: Again Before the Supreme Court: Can There Be "Issues Speech" During Campaigns? -.

Alabama: Republicans Want to Limit Spending, Fundraising, Free Speech | Alabama Political Reporter

Twin bills in the Alabama House and Senate would severely limit the First Amendment and the spirit of Citizens United, by limiting funds raised or spent on campaigns and issues. SB356 and HB404 Sponsored respectively by Sen. Arthur Orr and Rep. Mike Jones would, “regulate the disclosure, raising, and spending of money to influence elections and governmental actions.” Alabama’s own Shaun McCutcheon, a hero to many in the State and nation, fought the FEC over campaign giving and won in the 2014 US Supreme Court ruling “McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission,” believes full disclosure is right, but to limit how much money can be raised or spent is unacceptable.

Full Article: Republicans Want to Limit Spending, Fundraising, Free Speech - Alabama Political Reporter.

Ohio: Appeals court strikes down ban on campaign lying | The Columbus Dispatch

A federal appeals court in Cincinnati Wednesday may have delivered the death knell to a 42-year Ohio election law which prohibited candidates or independent political organizations from lying in their campaigns. In a unanimous ruling by a three-judge panel, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a 2014 decision by U.S. District Judge Timothy Black that the law violated political free speech guaranteed by the Constitution. In its 12-page ruling, the court of appeals concluded “Ohio’s political false-statements laws target speech at the core of First Amendment protections — political speech.”

Full Article: Appeals court strikes down ban on campaign lying | The Columbus Dispatch.

Indiana: ‘Ballot selfie law’ faces scrutiny from federal judge | Indianapolis Star

If you enter the voting booth this November and, as a proud voter, you snap a selfie with your ballot and share it on Facebook, you could be committing a felony. Indiana’s “ballot selfie law,” which was created by state lawmakers to prevent voter fraud, made it illegal to take such photos. Whether that law will remain in place in the upcoming municipal elections is now up to a federal judge to decide. The issue of ballot selfies reached the federal court in August when the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana filed a lawsuit that says the new law, which took effect in July, is unconstitutional because it violates free speech rights. The ACLU of Indiana is asking U.S. District Judge Sarah Evans Barker to issue an order that would prevent state officials from enforcing the law next month — and until the lawsuit reaches a resolution.

Full Article: 'Ballot selfie law' faces scrutiny from federal judge.

National: High court to decide free-speech limits in political-retribution case | Los Angeles Times

The Supreme Court said Thursday it will decide an important question on the rights of the nation’s 22 million public employees: How far do free-speech rights go in protecting a public employee who is demoted or fired over his or her perceived political affiliations? In the past, the court has said public employees have 1st Amendment rights, including the right to speak out on public issues. But lower courts are split on whether these employees are always protected from political retaliation. The justices agreed to hear an appeal from a New Jersey police detective who was demoted to walking a beat after he was seen putting into his car a large campaign sign that supported a candidate who was trying to oust the mayor of Paterson.

Full Article: High court to decide free-speech limits in political-retribution case - LA Times.

Maine: Did Maine open the door to selfies in the voting booth? | Bangor Daily News

When Republicans and Democrats in New Hampshire cast their presidential primary votes in February, expect some to post photos with their completed ballots to Facebook and Twitter. They’ll be celebrating a newly recognized liberty in the Granite State: the right to post a “ballot selfie.” That’s because New Hampshire lawmakers last year attempted to take that right away, passing a law barring a voter from “taking a digital image or photograph of his or her marked ballot and distributing or sharing the image via social media or by any other means.” They attached a $1,000 fine to the violation. But a federal judge last month struck down the law. 

Full Article: Did Maine open the door to selfies in the voting booth? | BDN Maine.

Minnesota: Secretary of State Simon sides with court: no need for ‘ballot selfie’ ban | Pioneer Press

It’s a distinctly 21st Century spin on an age-old practice: excited voters mark up their ballot on Election Day — then pull out a smartphone to take and a picture of their exercise in democracy and post it to social media. These so-called “ballot selfies” are also at the nexus of a legal debate as some states try to curtail the practice but a federal judge defends it. “It’s a fascinating debate,” said Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon, the state’s election supervisor. “You really better have a good reason before you clamp down on political speech.” Under Minnesota law, ballot selfies are legal — though showing a ballot to someone else in the polling place is not. If a Minnesota voter shows their ballot to someone else in the polling place, the ballot is supposed to be invalidated. The voter can receive a new ballot unless the ballot display is judged to be “clearly intentional.”

Full Article: SOS Simon sides with court: no need for 'ballot selfie' ban - The Political Animal.

Massachusetts: Supreme Judicial Court rules ‘invalid’ 1946 law on false statements in elections | MassLive

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court on Thursday ruled a state statute governing electoral publications is “invalid,” ordering dismissal of a criminal complaint against the treasurer of Jobs First Independent Expenditure Political Action Committee. The super PAC had targeted Rep. Brian Mannal, a Barnstable Democrat running for re-election, claiming in a mailer that Mannal “is putting criminals and his own interest above our families.”

Full Article: Massachusetts SJC rules 'invalid' 1946 law on false statements in elections |

New York: Citizens United loses New York ruling over donors | Reuters

A federal judge on Monday rejected Citizens United’s effort to block New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman from demanding that the conservative group disclose more information about its major donors. U.S. District Judge Sidney Stein in Manhattan refused to impose a preliminary injunction that would stop Schneiderman from requiring charities to disclose names, addresses and total contributions of big donors in order to solicit funds in the state. Citizens United argued that Schneiderman’s interpretation of a 2006 state regulation on donor disclosures violated its First Amendment free speech and association rights, and invaded the privacy of donors who wished to remain anonymous.

Full Article: Citizens United loses New York ruling over donors | Reuters.

Delaware: Delaware wins appeal, can enforce law on election advertising | Reuters

A federal appeals court said Delaware may enforce a state election law requiring advocacy groups that run political advertising to reveal their donors. Thursday’s 3-0 decision by the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia reversed a lower court ruling that had favored Delaware Strong Families, a conservative-leaning group that publishes “voter guides” ahead of elections. The group objected to a 2013 state law requiring third-party advertisers to reveal their donors’ identities if they spend more than $500 in an election cycle on ads that refer to specific candidates, even if they do not recommend how to vote.

Full Article: Delaware wins appeal, can enforce law on election advertising | Reuters.

Wisconsin: No charges in probe of Scott Walker’s recall election | Associated Press

Presidential candidate Scott Walker won a major legal victory Thursday when Wisconsin’s Supreme Court ended a secret investigation into whether the Republican’s gubernatorial campaign illegally coordinated with conservative groups during the 2012 recall election. No one has been charged in the so-called John Doe probe, Wisconsin’s version of a grand jury investigation in which information is tightly controlled, but questions about the investigation have dogged Walker for months. Barring an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, the ruling makes Walker’s campaign that much smoother as he courts voters in early primary states.

Full Article: No charges in probe of Scott Walker's recall election |