Permanently banning or temporarily suspending a media outlet or publication is a highly intrusive interference with the right to freedom of expression, similar to depriving an individual of the right to practise journalism.
If the right to suspend or ban rests with an administrative body, this amounts to a licensing power, and is accordingly a violation of international law.
But even when ordered by a court, it is doubtful whether a ban or suspension can be justifiable. It amounts to the wholesale abrogation of the concerned publication’s right to free expression, when less extreme measures are likely to be available, such as the imposition of a fine, seizure of an individual issue or criminal measures against those responsible.
Legislative measures which deprive media outlets or publishers of the possibility to distribute their publication are, for all intents and purposes, equivalent to a publication ban, and so on similarly unstable legal ground.
The US Supreme Court has remarked: “Liberty of circulating is as essential to the freedom of speech as liberty of publishing; indeed without the circulation the publication would be of little value.” Similar considerations led the ECtHR to condemn a ban on distribution of a magazine in Austrian army barracks in the case of Vereinigung Demokratischer Soldaten Österreichs and Gubi v. Austria. The Court found no evidence for the Austrian government’s allegation that the magazine in question posed a threat to national security; in particular, it did not recommend disobedience or violence. Despite its polemical tone, the magazine did not overstep the bounds of what should be permitted in the context of discussion of ideas within the army of a democratic state.
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