UNESCO: Could you present yourself and introduce how you become committed to promoting media freedom?
Toby Mendel: I am currently the Executive Director of the Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD) and before that I directed the Law Programme at ARTICLE 19. I have worked on the issue of freedom of expression, which includes media freedom, for over 25 years now, in countries all over the world. A lot of my work has been on the more legal side of things, whether helping governments or civil society prepare new laws, working with legal professionals and others to raise awareness, promoting proper implementation of laws, litigating to ensure positive interpretation of laws and so on. Freedom of expression, in particular, is incredibly interesting as a right because it is so foundational to all of the rights we believe in and it is also a very complex, challenging right.
UNESCO: What is the mission of the organization you are working for?
Toby Mendel: The Centre for Law and Democracy is an international human rights organisation based in Canada and working on foundational rights for democracy, including freedom of expression, access to information, freedom of association and assembly and the right to participate. It works in countries in all regions of the world to promote these rights, with a particular focus on building capacity and working in partnership.
UNESCO: What will you do thanks to the grant by the Global Media Defence Fund?
Toby Mendel: Focus on the idea of networks of lawyers who are involved in media defence in different ways has been growing in recent years. As part of our work in Myanmar, for example, CLD worked with local lawyers to create a new network along these lines. The main thrust of our new project will be to promote this idea in countries where either networks are just being created or where the idea is relatively new. We will provide knowledge products to lawyers who are interested in creating such networks, for example on how they should be structured or what activities they should undertake, provide a space to discuss these ideas in small groups and then provide dedicated, follow-up support in a few countries.
UNESCO: What will be the impact of this action?
Toby Mendel: We hope to get media lawyers networks off of the ground in at least three countries, one of which, Sri Lanka, is already moving ahead in this direction with our support. It is likely that these networks will involve 20-30 lawyers, although more is also possible, especially over time. We will also at least raise awareness about this idea in a total of 10 countries, and for 50 different lawyers, and perhaps more than three countries will create networks. The project is only short-term (10 months), but our experience suggests that, once created, these networks are likely to survive and carry out activities. If so, the impact on journalists and media outlets could be quite significant.
UNESCO: Any suggestions/recommendations you would like to make to UNESCO as administrator of the Global Media Defence Fund and to its donors?
Toby Mendel: We believe that this fund is meeting a very important need globally which has historically not been given enough attention to some extent by UNESCO but certainly also by donors. We would therefore strongly encourage donors to provide more funding for this kind of work.