Com­mon­wealth bodies un­veil prin­ci­ples of me­dia free­dom

Sunday Trust - - MEDIA -

As lead­ers from the 53 Com­mon­wealth coun­tries fly to Lon­don for a Sum­mit this week, six Com­mon­wealth or­gan­i­sa­tions have un­veiled pro­pos­als for a 12-point Com­mon­wealth code of con­duct aimed at re­duc­ing the heavy toll of jour­nal­ists’ killings and other threats to the me­dia’s right to re­port.

The Com­mon­wealth Sum­mit will take place in Lon­don from April 16-20. The six sig­na­tory or­gan­i­sa­tions of the Prin­ci­ples are the Com­mon­wealth Jour­nal­ists As­so­ci­a­tion, In­sti­tute of Com­mon­wealth Stud­ies, Com­mon­wealth Lawyers As­so­ci­a­tion, Com­mon­wealth Le­gal Ed­u­ca­tion As­so­ci­a­tion, Com­mon­wealth Hu­man Rights Ini­tia­tive and Com­mon­wealth Par­lia­men­tary As­so­ci­a­tion UK.

“The Com­mon­wealth Prin­ci­ples on Free­dom of Ex­pres­sion and the Role of the Me­dia in Good Gov­er­nance” were made pub­lic at the Uni­ver­sity of Lon­don’s Sen­ate House, the home of the In­sti­tute of Com­mon­wealth Stud­ies (ICWS).

“Gov­ern­ments are al­ways keen to shape the po­lit­i­cal mes­sage. Me­dia free­dom is hard won and needs con­stant vig­i­lance and ac­tive de­fence”, said Dr Sue Onslow, Deputy Di­rec­tor of the In­sti­tute, who opened the meet­ing to mark the pub­li­ca­tion of the Prin­ci­ples.

Fig­ures pub­lished by UNESCO, the UN Agency with a man­date to de­fend free­dom of ex­pres­sion, show that 57 jour­nal­ists were killed for their work in Com­mon­wealth coun­tries be­tween 2013 and 2017.

Com­mon­wealth Sec­re­tary-Gen­eral, Pa­tri­cia Scot­land said last year that the num­ber of jour­nal­ists killed for do­ing their jobs rep­re­sented “a se­ri­ous in­dict­ment of our col­lec­tive ef­forts to build a safer and more in­clu­sive fu­ture.”

Among the widely re­ported cases in 2017 were the fa­tal shoot­ing of edi­tor and jour­nal­ist Gauri Lankesh in In­dia in Septem­ber and the car bomb­ing in Oc­to­ber that killed in­ves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ist Daphne Caru­ana Gal­izia in Malta, the cur­rent chairin-of­fice of the Com­mon­wealth.

“Me­dia free­dom is in peril”, said Ma­hen­dra Ved, Pres­i­dent of the Com­mon­wealth Jour­nal­ists As­so­ci­a­tion. “The Com­mon­wealth should now demon­strate the will to de­fend it through ac­tions, not just words; I be­lieve these guide­lines can help to make the com­mit­ments real.”

The Prin­ci­ples are free­dom of ex­pres­sion, re­stric­tions on free­dom of ex­pres­sion, ac­cess to in­for­ma­tion, par­lia­ments and the me­dia, ju­di­cia­ries and the me­dia, the role of me­dia in elec­tions and the safety of jour­nal­ists. The rest are me­dia self-reg­u­la­tion and com­plaints, me­dia reg­u­la­tion, ob­ser­vance of these prin­ci­ples and up­hold­ing Com­mon­wealth val­ues.

The doc­u­ment re­flects in­ter­na­tional stan­dards and best prac­tice with re­gard to the re­la­tion­ships be­tween the me­dia and the three branches of gov­ern­ment, ef­fec­tive pro­tec­tions for the in­de­pen­dence of the me­dia and its role in in­form­ing the pub­lic, the me­dia’s re­spect for ac­cu­racy and fair­ness, and pro­mot­ing mem­ber states’ ob­ser­vance of the prin­ci­ples.

Des­mond Browne QC, who rep­re­sented the Com­mon­wealth Lawyers As­so­ci­a­tion on the Work­ing Group, said: “The CLA has been proud to play a part in draft­ing these im­por­tant Prin­ci­ples. The in­ten­tion is that they should pro­vide a uni­ver­sal Code for the Com­mon­wealth which will pro­tect both free­dom of ex­pres­sion and the ac­tiv­i­ties of re­spon­si­ble jour­nal­ists.”

The pub­lisher of Africa To­day, Kay­ode Soyinka, was present at the launch of the Prin­ci­ples. Soyinka said: “As a let­ter-bomb sur­vivor and vic­tim of the most grue­some at­tack on me­dia free­dom in my coun­try, Nige­ria, I sup­port the Com­mon­wealth Me­dia Prin­ci­ples. The time has come for the Com­mon­wealth to prove its rel­e­vance as a true cham­pion of demo­cratic val­ues.”

The six Com­mon­wealth or­gan­i­sa­tions which are jointly putting for­ward the Prin­ci­ples say they want them to be adopted by the Com­mon­wealth as a “man­ual of good prac­tice” to as­sist gov­ern­ments, leg­is­la­tures, ju­di­cia­ries and the me­dia to con­trib­ute in ap­pro­pri­ate ways to pro­mot­ing open, demo­cratic and ac­count­able so­ci­eties, in ac­cor­dance with Com­mon­wealth val­ues.

A CPJ del­e­ga­tion meets with Euro­pean Com­mis­sion Vice Pres­i­dent Frans Tim­mer­mans, sec­ond from left. (CPJ)

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