The Center for International Media Law and Policy Studies will support research and host public education events related to free expression issues and provide students with opportunities to work with organizations that promote media freedom.
"Indiana University and the School of Journalism have maintained a vibrant international focus for decades," said Interim Dean Michael Evans. "This center adds significantly to that effort by introducing a multicultural legal dimension to the research and coursework under way at the school."
Anthony L. Fargo, associate professor of journalism and director of the new center, said it is the first such center at a publicly supported university journalism school to focus on international media law and policy issues.
"We see the possibilities for all kinds of roles for the center, in terms of encouraging and supporting research on international law as well as issues that remain current with regard to media laws in the United States," said Fargo, who also is vice president of the Indiana Coalition for Open Government.
For example, with the shift away from print to digital in journalism, Americans have found themselves entangled in laws in other countries for things they published in the United States but that went abroad through the Internet.
"While Americans sometimes don't particularly have a strong knowledge of First Amendment rights, they have even less knowledge about the rest of the world," Fargo said. "What a lot of people don't realize is that when they decide to start a blog or post comments about someone they don't like from another country, they are potentially making themselves open to being liable to the laws of that country, because the Internet is an international medium.
"In some countries, including in many long-standing democracies in the West, libel laws are much more protective of people who feel they've been defamed than American law," he added. "There is a need for all people who communicate over the Internet, either professionally or even casually, to have a greater awareness of the ways in which American law does not protect you when what you write crosses borders."
While it would seem that American jurisprudence has addressed nearly all of the major domestic issues involving media freedom, Fargo said that isn't necessarily the case.
While the Freedom of Information Act has been on the books since 1966, newer democracies have more progressive laws that require their governmental agencies to be more transparent and make it easier to appeal decisions denying access to information.
The Canada-based Centre for Law and Democracy and Access Info Europe earlier this year released a study that rated the freedom of information laws in the 90 nations where they exist. The United States ranked 39th, behind countries such as Yemen, Estonia, Nigeria, Mexico and Ethiopia (Serbia was ranked first).
Fargo said the Center for International Media Law and Policy Studies will contribute to the ongoing dialogue about media freedoms in the state and the United States.
The center already is working on a legal research study for the Vienna-based International Press Institute on criminal libel laws in the United States. While such laws are rarely used today in the United States, cases of criminal libel are prosecuted worldwide and are used by authorities to silence or punish journalists and bloggers.
An IU journalism graduate student currently is interning at the International Press Institute. The center plans to support graduate and faculty fellowships and eventually hopes to have an endowed professorship.
The center also will seek opportunities to work with other organizations in designing curricula for teaching journalism students in developing democracies about press freedom.