IMPORTANCE OF AN ENABLING LEGAL ENVIRONMENT FOR PRESS FREEDOM

25th celebration of  World Press Freedom Day 2018
“KEEPING POWER IN CHECK: Media, Justice and the Rule of Law”
A free press is essential for peace, justice and human rights for all. It is crucial to building transparent and democratic societies and keeping those in power accountable.  It is vital for sustainable development.  Journalists and media workers shine a light on local and global challenges and tell the stories that need to be told. Their services to the public is invaluable.  Laws that protect independent journalism, freedom of expression and the right to information need to be adopted, implemented and enforced.  Crimes against journalists must be prosecuted.  On World Press Freedom Day 2018, I call on governments to strengthen press freedom, and to protect journalists. Promoting a free press in standing up for our right to truth.”
– H.W. Mr. António Guterres, United Nations Secretary-General


Report by:
  
Sevgin OKTAY, The Light Millennium
NGO Rep. to the United Nations Department of Public Information

As an NGO representative of The Light Millennium, I had the privilege of attending the 25th celebration of World Press Freedom Day on 3 May 2018 featuring the theme of “KEEPING POWER IN CHECK: Media, Justice and the Rule of Law” I realize that that is a very important role to play.  At the same time, it suggests additional themes which may be suggested as well such as “KEEPING FREEDOM OF SPEECH IN CHECK,” which may sound like contradiction in terms.  That is why I very much wanted to attend this important High-Level Opening Session in general, and the following Panel Discussion, in particular.  I will get back to that later.

World Press Freedom Day events were organized around the world. The flagship celebration, organized by UNESCO and the government of Ghana, was held in Accra in Ghana, from 2 to 3 May, with the participation of the country’s President Nana Akufo-Addo.

The event at the United Nations headquarters in New York City was co-organized by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the Group of Friends for the Protection of Journalists.  In general terms, the United Nations Department of Public Information (DPI) NGO Relations held a briefing celebrating the 25th anniversary of World Press Freedom Day, entitled Keeping Power in Check: The Protection of Journalists and Media Workers. The event started at 10 a.m. with a High-Level Opening session, followed by a panel discussion, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., which focused on guaranteeing the safety of journalists and all those who work in the field of media.

And in particular, keeping with the featured 2018 theme on 3 May, the UN session highlighted the importance of an enabling legal environment for press freedom, which gives special attention to the role of an independent judiciary in ensuring legal guarantees for press freedom and the prosecution of crimes against journalists. At the same time, it highlighted the role of the media in sustainable development, especially during elections – as a watchdog fostering transparency, accountability and the rule of law. The theme also aims to explore legislative gaps regarding freedom of expression and information online, and the risks of regulating online speech.

The High-Level Opening Session was moderated by Ms. Alison Smale, Under-Secretary-General for Global Communications, Department of Public Information (DPI), who opened the Briefing by highlighting the UN’s commitment to the right for freedom of expression and the need to allow media workers to operate freely around the world. The panelists for this High-Level session focused their remarks on the current challenges that journalists and media workers face in today’s environment. These challenges include increased violence towards journalists and media, and also a general mistrust of the content produced by journalists. The High-Level session started with a video message from H.E. Mr. António Guterres, United Nations Secretary-General, saying on the occasion of the World Press Freedom Day that:

A free press is essential for peace, justice and human rights for all. It is crucial to building transparent and democratic societies and keeping those in power accountable.  It is vital for sustainable development.  Journalists and media workers shine a light on local and global challenges and tell the stories that need to be told. Their services to the public is invaluable.  Laws that protect independent journalism, freedom of expression and the right to information need to be adopted, implemented and enforced.  Crimes against journalists must be prosecuted.  On World Press Freedom Day 2018, I call on governments to strengthen press freedom, and to protect journalists. Promoting a free press in standing up for our right to truth.”

It was especially poignant for these words to come from the ninth Secretary-General of the United Nations having witnessed the suffering of the most vulnerable people on earth, in refugee camps and in war zones, and is “determined to make human dignity the core of his work, and to serve as a peace broker, a bridge-builder and a promoter of reform and innovation” within the realm of free press in every corner of the world.

H.E. Mr. Miroslav Lajcák of Slovakia, President of the current 72nd session of the UN General Assembly, followed the Secretary-General also stressing the crucial role of free, pluralistic and independent journalism for the effective implementation of the 2030 Agenda, of which Sustainable Development Goal 16 focuses on promoting just, peaceful and inclusive societies. At the same time, he called for bringing to justice crimes against press.

Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) cannot be achieved without the work of journalists…

Next, H.E. Mr. Jan Kickert, Permanent Representative of Austria to the United Nations, Chair of the United Nations General Assembly Committee on Information, stated that the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) cannot be achieved without the work of journalists, as they are the very people who hold governments accountable and prevent corruption within countries around the world. 

When you block a free media, you block the truth…

Ms. Alisson Kent, an award-winning journalist currently based in New York city as the United Nations correspondent for the CBC/Radio Canada followed up on these remarks by stating that “when you block a free media, you block the truth”. She explained that 262 journalists are currently in jail and mentioned that Turkey, China and Egypt are the most dangerous countries to work in as a journalist.

Ms. Nicole Stremlau, Lead Researcher, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization Report on World Trends in Freedom of Expression and Media Development; University of Oxford and University of Johannesburg, ended the session by introducing the Report on World Trends in Freedom of Expression and Media Development. The UNESCO Report highlights the inequalities in media audiences, media violence, the impact of media on migration and the intensification of the turn towards identity politics, she said.

The opening session concluded with a question and answer period where Ms. Alison Smale using her prerogative as the moderator called upon two university students sitting at reserved front seats to ask their questions first.  First student asked how to prevent governments around the world in general from repressing repress freedom of the press followed by the second student mentioning specifically Turkey.

The moderator stating that repression of the freedom of the press was reprehensible deferred the questions to the panelists for further response.  H. E. Jan Kickert responded by essentially reiterating the same sentiments about the freedom of the press.  In subsequent questions from the floor, the postponement of a United Nation as panel discussion on international media freedom and fake news only the night before was brought up.  Apparently, the panel was cancelled because one of the presenters was going to mention by name countries that jail journalists.

In another account, an organization at the panel refused a request from the Alliance of Civilizations to remove references from a video it wanted to present to several countries that restrict press freedom including Turkey, Mexico, Egypt, Russia and Pakistan.  The Opening session came to an end with a request from the floor to take a moment to remember the 10 journalists who were killed in Afghanistan on 30 April 2018.

KEEPING POWER IN CHECK

During the intermission before the Panel Discussion started next after the Opening High-Level Session, I had a chance to talk to the university student who had asked the first question.  I thanked the student for her remarks about the importance of freedom of the press and specifically, about the theme of the briefing, namely, “KEEPING POWER IN CHECK” as a means of standing against “Power Corrupts   She being a student of a Graduate School of Journalism, I wondered what she thought about the concept of “Social Lies Corrupt” being corruptive as well.

Then, how about a theme, for want of a word, “KEEPING FREEDOM OF SPEECH IN CHECK,” I asked, which sounded like a contradiction in terms. She wanted me to explain further.  I mentioned that under the “Freedom of the Press” and concomitant “Freedom of Speech,” some ethnic groups promote violence under the tutelage of Freedom of Speech to incite violence.  That is, while many Americans know that they have a right to free speech, the lay opinion often views the degree of protection afforded by the United State Constitution as much broader than it is in reality.

The First Amendment does not protect all types of speech, among them crimes Involving speech inciting violence.  For example, there are a number of summer camps in this country where young people are indoctrinated with hatred against other groups and are taught not only “The ends justify the means!” concept, but also to commit even savagery going as far as “An eye for an eye!”  Then I went on to say that just as we have been discussing here in this session protection for social media workers to exercise their right to freedom of expression, we should also expect from the same social media workers to inform public at large about the abuses of “Freedom of Speech” in creating discord between different ethnic groups.  This is especially true in the United States of America where many different ethnic groups have come together to live in peace and harmony.  When I learned that she was studying documentary filming, I suggested that she visit one of those camps to do a documentary film as an exposé of how “Freedom of Expression” is being used to corrupt young minds. What comes to mind is Camp Haiastan, Franklin, Massachusetts

As we were being summoned to take our seats after a short intermission for the upcoming Panel Discussion of the day, I also left the student with the thought of perhaps journalism dedicated to the pursuit of seeking truth should be checking closely to make sure that the laws of the land are being applied accordingly.  A case in point is the lack of application of the clauses in the First Amendment where the freedom to incite violence is not protected.   

The Panel Discussion opened with a speech given by H.E. Mr. Francois Delattre who is currently Permanent Representative of France to the United Nations. He touched upon the fact that persecution of journalists going as far back as many decades.  According to him, this is because freedom of the press is difficult to defend, and for that very same reason it needs command.  He also pointed out that press was being “instrumentalized.”   He added that protection of journalists should not be limited to those formally recognized as journalists, but should cover others, including community media workers and citizen journalists and those who may be using new media as a means of reaching their audience. Journalists’ employers’ associations should be aware of their responsibilities and must take steps to aid team members in difficulty, including freelancers, fixers, photojournalists, drivers, interpreters and others. It should be recognized globally that laws ensuring safety of journalists should also extend to media workers, especially locally employed personnel who generate a significant amount of public interest journalism.

Freedom of the press, free flow of information, and pluralism of the media are crucial to keep power in check

Mr. Ramu Damodaran, Chief of the United Nations Academic Impact, Outreach Division in the United Nations Department of Public Information who spoke next was essentially the de facto moderator of the Panel Discussion in the absence of Ms. Alison Smale who had to leave.  He stressed that Freedom of opinion and expression is a fundamental human right underpinning all civil liberties and an important prerequisite for the functioning of democracy. Freedom of the press, free flow of information, and pluralism of the media are crucial to keep power in check. Being the watchdogs of these freedoms and providing the element of public scrutiny, journalists and media workers ensure accountability and adherence to the rule of law.

The next speaker Ms. Marie Bourreau is a journalist from France and correspondent for Le Monde and Radio France Internationale at the United Nations in New York. According to the program notes, she produced numerous reports for the written press, television and radio, particularly on Afghanistan. She is the author of “We are brothers and enemies: one is Taliban, the other fights them“, a book published in 2011 which evokes the ambivalence of the fight against terrorism in Afghanistan. Her work in war zones has been awarded several prizes. In the past, she has worked in Toronto, Cairo and Kabul, all to support media in NIF@MarieBourreau France. She mainly talked about safety of including freelancers, fixers, photojournalists, drivers, interpreters and others on the frontlines of wars.  She entertained the idea of having insurance for media workers, in general.

Ms. Elisabet Cantenys also reported from various parts of the world.  She is the Executive Director for A Culture of Safety Alliance (ACOS Alliance). She talked about a coalition of news organizations, freelance journalist associations and press freedom NGOs working together to embed a culture of safety across newsrooms and among freelance and local journalists worldwide.

The deteriorating rights of journalists globally

Mr. Steve Coll, Dean of Columbia Journalism School, talked about the deteriorating rights of journalists globally. He mentioned journalists working internationally frequently relying on fixers, interpreters and others acting as intermediaries between the foreign journalist and their sources at the national or local levels, including other freelance journalists and media workers, contacts in government, armed groups, non-state actors and others.

Mr. Coll was concerned about the “leaks” and criminalization of such reporting, and in some states the lack of protection of sources that journalists rely on.  Addressing the media workers, in particular those engaged at the local and national levels, mentioned their being exposed to the risks of working on dangerous assignments and can also being targeted for the part they play in delivering the news to the public. Also, pointed out how they usually do not have the same level of security as staff journalists or foreign correspondents and too often are a “living example of the price one pays for freedom of expression.

A real journalist true to the truths of life, it is not taking up journalism just to have a career, but by having a “passion” to report the truth!

Ms. Loubna Mrie, a Syrian activist, who had covered rebel held areas as a photojournalist for Reuters. From her childhood days to adulthood, she had watched more than half a decade of long-lasting wars within her country. She was determined to help her country in any way she could.  At the same time, she had crisscrossed the border between Syria and Turkey several times to seek a better life.  She mentioned how the conditions in Turkey were much better with schools, hospitals and how well the Syrian refugees were welcomed, and was conflicted.  But, in the end she ended up coming to the United States.  She gave a moving account of participating in the early days of the revolution, accompanied by a video clip showing how a friend of hers and she reported the wars they had witnessed on the front lines. She ended her presentation to a thunderous applause after making the comment that to be a real journalist true to the truths of life, it is not taking up journalism just to have a career, but by having a “passion” to report the truth! Her friend was killed in Syria, and she said she felt guilty to be in the United States now.  Her work has been published in The Nation, Time, Vice, and elsewhere. She is now studying in the Near Eastern Studies Department at New York University. She is also a host of the Irrelevant Arabs podcast

This was essentially the end of the Panel Discussion.  Before adjourning this DPI (NGO) Briefing for the day, which was already beyond the time allotted, three Discussants from floor were given the floor.  They were:

Women journalists face double vulnerability, targeted both as woman and as media workers

Ms. Whitney Hurst is a Senior Producer at Al Jazeera English. Prior to Al Jazeera, she worked at CNN International. She mentioned that 97% of the journalists were jailed in their own countries across the world. Women journalists face double vulnerability, targeted both as woman and as media workers

Mr. Rob Mahoney reported on politics and economics for Reuters news agency from Brussels and Paris in the late 1970s, and from Southeast Asia in the early 1980s. Mahoney covered the civil war in Sri Lanka, and the fallout from the Soviet presence in Afghanistan. In 1988, he became Reuters Bureau Chief for West and Central Africa.  In his talk, Mr. Mahoney mentioned weaponization of journalism and urged resisting the politicization of the media.

‘Facts’ not ‘fakes’ are the life-line of democracy.

Finally, Ms. Margaux Ewen, the North American Director for Reporters Without Borders (RWB), talked about how to “incentivize” teachers to get interested in following the media, and accordingly teach their students how to distinguish between “fakes and facts” in the media.  She insisted on starting a conversation between the young and the old, the teachers and the students who are indeed very much adept at using social media and looking for guidance.  Because, ‘facts’ not ‘fakes’ are the life-line of democracy.

[…] Silence was deafening as one imagined the screams of dying for press freedom.

There was still interest from the floor to continue with questions. One questioner simply proposed one-minute of silence in honor of those journalists and others who were killed in Afghanistan just the other day. It was a poignant minute where the silence was deafening as one imagined the screams of dying for press freedom.

It was already getting late for me to meet my wife at a designated place and time.  So, still with the “fakes &. facts” in my mind, I had to leave reluctantly this very interesting World Press Freedom Day, 2018 Session.  I was also thinking about the bright student of journalism and wondering what her documentaries may be in search of what truth…

Source: United Nations Department of Public Information |
@UNDPINGORelations @UNDPINGO

Event photos by Sevgin Oktay


Email:
 Sevgin(at)OktayEnterprises.com

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– Posted by Bircan Ünver on May 11, 2018.

Related
https://en.unesco.org/events/world-press-freedom-day-2018-keeping-power-check-media-justice-and-rule-law

#REMEMBER: NEED TO PROTECT THE HUMAN DIGNITY AND HUMAN RİGHTS OF ALL PEOPLE

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