Media Release: University of Toronto joins Global Partnership to Protect Media Freedom

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

University of Toronto joins Global Partnership to Protect Media Freedom

International Human Rights Program part of global effort to bolster freedom of the press, in association with international network of academic institutions and distinguished panel, led by Lord Neuberger and Amal Clooney

Toronto, September 4, 2019 —The University of Toronto is joining a Global Campaign for Media Freedom and will play a leading role in developing legal tools to protect journalists and defend freedom of the press alongside project partners, including a panel of legal experts led by Lord Neuberger, former President of the Supreme Court of the UK, and Amal Clooney, special envoy on media freedom to the UK Foreign Secretary.

The U of T’s Faculty of Law’s International Human Rights Program (IHRP) will be part of a legal network which will generate a series of landmark reports on model laws that set out international human rights standards that should guide the formulation and application of criminal and civil laws frequently used to target journalists and stifle media freedom around the world.

The network, which includes King’s College London, Columbia Law School, and Korea University, will collaborate to ensure the reports have comprehensive jurisdictional coverage.

The IHRP will lead this project through a unique clinical course called the Media Freedom Model Laws Project, enlisting current U of T law students to research and draft a report on the impact of espionage and official secrets laws on media freedom. Irwin Cotler, former Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, will co-lead this effort.

“The model laws project comes at a critical moment and we are thrilled that the International Human Rights Program will be taking a leading role in developing practical legal frameworks that balance the need for a free and independent media with other important government interests,” said Vincent Wong, Research Associate at the IHRP and Adjunct Professor for the Media Freedom Model Laws Project. “The last several years have seen a disturbing global trend of journalists being imprisoned or even killed for doing their work. Enormous shifts in the digital and technological landscape of media as well as heightened national security fears present new and significant challenges for journalists and media outlets.”

According to Reporters without Borders, 2018 was the worst year on record for violence and abuse against journalists. More than half of the journalists killed that year were deliberately targeted and there has been a 15% increase in such killings since 2017, punctuated by the grisly murder of Saudi columnist Jamal Khashoggi inside a Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

In addition to the direct targeting of journalists and reporters, whistle-blowers who expose key information involving unethical and illegal activities to media outlets are also under increasing threat. The wide-ranging disclosures of global surveillance frameworks under the “Five Eyes” network by former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden and charges levelled against him under the US Espionage Act have raised key questions around the relationship between national security, freedom of the press, and the public’s right to know and receive information.

“Although 173 countries have ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights that guarantees freedom of speech, many countries still have laws that have been written or applied to silence dissent and muzzle journalists,” said Amal Clooney, Deputy Chair of the Global Media Freedom Initiative High-Level Panel of Legal Experts.  “The promulgation of model legislation to guide States on the free speech guarantees that must be respected under international law is a key priority for us.”

The Model Laws Project builds upon a significant body of work that the IHRP has produced on freedom of expression. The award-winning program has previously produced reports on violence and intimidation against journalists in Mexico and Honduras, the chilling of free speech in India, submissions on freedom of expression in Brazil and Guatemala, op-eds on the protection of journalists in Hong Kong, and an intervention at the Supreme Court of Canada in the recent R v Vice Media case. 

The Project is part of a larger international media freedom campaign, which builds upon the work of the Global Conference for Media Freedom on July 10th and 11th organized by the Canadian and UK governments.

“The Faculty of Law at the University of Toronto is excited to be at the forefront of this important initiative,” said Dean Edward Iacobucci of the Faculty of Law. “Working internationally with top legal scholars, lawyers, journalists, media advocates, and governments on these challenging contemporary issues will provide a unique and valuable learning experience for our students.”



Vincent Wong, Adjunct Professor and Research Associate at the International Human Rights Program, University of Toronto Faculty of Law:; +1 416-946-8229

Edward Iacobucci, Dean and Professor at University of Toronto Faculty of Law:; +1 416-978-3718


"University of Toronto launches law course in global bid to protect media freedom," The Globe and Mail, 4 September 2019.

"U of T students join universities around the world to address laws that suppress media, freedom of expression," U of T News, 5 September 2019.

"U of T's International Human Rights Law program launches new course in an effort to protect media freedom," Global News Radio AM 640, 5 September 2019.