The Commonwealth’s 52 Member States can show collective resolve to address freedom of the media by working together to implement the UN Action Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity.
This was the message of Baroness Patricia Scotland, Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, to a conference in London this week.
“The [UN] Plan aims to create a free and safe environment for journalists and media workers, including social media producers of public interest journalism, with a view to strengthening peace, democracy and development worldwide,” she noted.
The Commonwealth head said it is incumbent upon states to investigate promptly and impartially attacks on journalists, elaborating that states should undertake a “thorough examination of the systemic nature or patterns of the violations and abuses that occur in order to secure accountability, provide effective remedy, and instil confidence in public institutions amongst their citizens”.
Secretary-General Scotland made her remarks while addressing the conference “The Commonwealth and Challenges to Media Freedom”, convened by the Institute of Commonwealth Studies (ICS) at the University of London this week.
Speakers at the event highlighted a range of increasing restrictions on media in many parts of the Commonwealth. The impact of social media across contemporary media landscapes in south Asia, the Caribbean, Africa, and the United Kingdom was also assessed.
The Commonwealth Journalists’ Association and the Commonwealth Press Union Media Trust unveiled an initiative to develop a set of press freedom principles to possibly present to the 2018 summit of the heads of the Commonwealth countries.
Baroness Scotland welcomed the initiative, describing it as “the possibility of a Commonwealth declaration on the media and good governance, with a view to establishing mechanisms for assessing and helping to deliver remedies for serious and persistent breaches and violations.”
In his remarks, UNESCO’s Director for Freedom of Expression and Media Development Guy Berger highlighted the potentials for co-operation between UNESCO and the Commonwealth around the role of journalists and their safety particularly during elections.
“Combining efforts in favour of press freedom and safety is the right thing to do, and it is also vital for the credibility and impact of our two organisations as we work to promote the Sustainable Development Agenda,” he said.
Berger drew particular attention to the challenges posed to elections by “current pollution of the information environment”. He cautioned that “the integrity of democracy, and of open and transparent political advertising and policy-based electoral persuasion, is being dangerously compromised”.
This was why countries needed free, pluralistic and independent journalism as a source for reliable, trustworthy information and informed opinion during elections.
“Many politicians don’t like the scrutiny that comes from strong journalism – but better the devil they know, than a murky world in which no one can tell what’s really going on,” he stated.