At a meeting of the Group of Friends of the UN Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC) at the UN Headquarters in New York on 4 June 2015, UNESCO promoted freedom of expression and the role of media in building peace and understanding.
The meeting focused on “The Role of Media in Building Bridges between Nations” as media is one of the pillars of the work conducted by UNAOC. Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, the UN High Representative for the Alliance of Civilizations, and Cristina Gallach, UN Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information, along with the meeting’s co-sponsors, the UN Permanent Representatives of Spain and Turkey, delivered opening remarks.
The High Representative highlighted the activities of UNAOC to counter narratives that lead to incitement and hate speech. He gave examples such as organizing training workshops for journalists in collaboration with senior media professionals and providing a platform for voices of credible individuals who put out messages that counter hate speech and negative narratives. While calling for compliance with relevant human rights treaties, Mr Al-Nasser stated that “there is always a space for free speech and expression but there is no merit in freedom of insult, incitement to hatred and spreading the message of enmity”. Ms Gallach emphasised the role of media in counteracting offensive speech and speaking out against intolerance.
In the general discussion, the UNESCO Representative highlighted the Organization’s programmes that promote free flow of information and media literacy. She specified that UNESCO’s philosophy is that “free, independent and pluralistic journalism provides citizens with the information choices they need in order to make knowledgeable decisions about peace and trans-national relations”. She also outlined the importance of the issue of safety of journalists and the problem of impunity, putting forward a concrete proposal for the indicators network on the Sustainable Development Goals’ targets. Such indicator would highlight especially the issue of safety of journalists and the issue of impunity, a matter that is at the core of the recently adopted Security Council Resolution 2222 of 27 May 2015.
Mandated by its Member States, UNESCO already regularly compiles data on safety and impunity. Integrating this data into the development framework will stress the importance of journalism and media for a peaceful and inclusive path to sustainable development.
In their interventions, the representatives of Spain, the European Union and Morocco made specific references to UNESCO’s work in this field – with the EU mentioning the cooperation with the Organization in Nepal, Jordan, Myanmar and Gambia; Morocco stressing the training of Moroccan journalists done by UNESCO; and Spain referring to UNESCO’s media literacy programmes.
A number of countries underscored the media’s potential to promote tolerance and the need to establish “responsible thoughtful journalism”. Others put forward the importance of the ethical aspect of the work of journalists in fulfilling their professional obligations, while some EU Member States expressed concern about the violations of the freedom of expression, including the application of some blasphemy laws.