The Committee to Protect Journalists today called on Facebook to restore a video honoring the winners of the International Press Freedom Awards (IPFA) at CPJ’s annual awards ceremony held on November 18 and streamed on social media during the event.

Less than an hour after the stream ended, Facebook notified CPJ that the video had been withheld worldwide because of a copyright match to a 13-second clip owned by i-Cable News, a Hong Kong-based Cantonese-language cable news channel. CPJ emailed i-Cable Communications Limited on November 24 requesting details but received no immediate reply.

The clip, featuring Jimmy Lai taking a bite from an apple, was taken from an advertisement for the now-shuttered Apple Daily dating from the 1990s when he founded the newspaper. Currently imprisoned by Chinese authorities, Lai has become a powerful symbol of press freedom as the Chinese Communist Party seeks to gain control over Hong Kong’s media and was honored during CPJ’s award ceremony for his work.

It’s not clear if Facebook applied the action automatically, or whether i-Cable News complained in an attempt to suppress the video. The news group, i-Cable, signed an agreement in 2018 with China Mobile Limited, a state-owned telecommunication company, allowing China Mobile to use its content for the next 20 years.

“It is beyond ironic that a platform which trumpets its commitment to freedom of speech should block a video celebrating journalists who risk their lives and liberty defending it,” CPJ Deputy Executive Director Robert Mahoney said. “Facebook must restore the video immediately and provide a clear and timely explanation of why it was censored in the first place.”

A lawyer at Donaldson and Callif, which vetted the IPFA video for Culture House, the production house that cut the video, told CPJ in an email that the firm was of the opinion that the clip of Lai “constitutes a fair use as used in this IPFA video.”

The full awards video—and its comments, views and shares—remains unavailable to Facebook users worldwide. The IPFA video is still available on YouTube and Twitter.

CPJ contacted Facebook on November 19 and again on November 22 outlining CPJ’s concerns about the video’s removal but has yet to receive an explanation for the action by the company.

CPJ has documented examples of U.S. copyright laws being used to censor journalism globally.

The press freedom organization has held IPFA award ceremonies since 1991 as a way to honor at-risk journalists around the globe and highlight erosions of press freedom.


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