Accra Declaration Emerges from 2018 WPFD Celebrations

Audrey Azoulay, Director-General, UNESCO
Audrey Azoulay, Director-General, UNESCO

On May 3, 2018, the Accra Declaration “Keeping Power in Check: Media, Justice and the Rule of Law” was adopted by acclamation at the close of the 25th global commemoration of World Press Freedom Day which took place in Accra, Ghana on May 2 and 3.

The Declaration calls on UNESCO member states to create, strengthen and/or implement the much needed enabling legal and policy framework to ensure respect for freedom of expression and privacy, foster a diverse, independent media sector and ensure that relevant officials are properly trained so as to respect that frame work in practice in line with international standards.

The international conference which took place on May 2 and 3, 2018 was organised by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in partnership with the Government of Ghana. Since the global commemoration of this day in 1993, this was  the fourth time the event was held in Africa.

The theme of the event was Media, Justice and the Rule of Law and it was attended by about 800 participants including investigative journalists, representatives of media publishers, editors, researchers, policy actors, representatives of the judiciary and students of journalism.

The Declaration arose out of concern about the conditions journalists face in many countries – being denied their rights to freely join or form organizations to defend themselves and/or protect their rights; about the unacceptably high rate of attacks on journalists, including digital attacks on female journalists, and the equally unacceptably high rate of impunity for these crimes.

There were also concerns about the continuing challenges to meaningful access to and use of the Internet, and the impact on freedom of expression of disproportionate regulatory responses regarding the Internet; disturbed by the growing number of intentional disruptions of communications networks and platforms, which violates the right to freedom of expression and hampers sustainable development; and convinced that professional, independent journalism, based on independently verifiable facts, and, in particular, investigative journalism, play an essential role in  holding governments and other powerful actors to account, keeping the public informed, exposing wrongdoing, creating spaces for healthy public debate and enabling public participation in decision-making.

Participants urged Member States to embrace an inclusive, participatory approach to developing laws and policies to ensure respect for freedom of expression and enhance judicial independence and the capacity of administration of justice actors—including the police, prosecutors and judges—to respect freedom of expression themselves, ensure that those responsible for threats or attacks against journalists, media outlets and others for exercising their right to freedom of expression are brought to justice via fair and impartial proceedings, and, otherwise, to decide cases that raise freedom of expression issues in line with international standards.

The Declaration alongside outlining UNESCO’s responsibility and urging action from member states, also made recommendations to journalists, civil society, academia and the technical community. It aims to honour journalists and media workers who contribute to media freedom through their work and commitment— often at the risk of their safety and personal security. It also seeks to address other issues such as the particular difficulties of protecting, in the digital era, confidential journalistic sources, which is a pre-requisite for independent journalism; and alarmed at the proliferation of laws restricting freedom of expression in the name of protecting national security and combating extremism and terrorism which fail to respect relevant international standards.

The Accra Declaration is available here.