Free Expression Special Rapporteurs Release 2018 Joint Declaration


11The four international Special Rapporteurs on freedom of expression have released their “2018 Joint Declaration on Media Independence and Diversity in the Digital Age” ahead of the World Press Freedom Day celebration on May 3, 2018.

David Kaye, the United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression; Harlem Desir, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Representative on Freedom of the Media; Edison Lanza, the Organization of American States (OAS) Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Lawrence Mute, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information worked on the declaration in conjunction with ARTICLE 19, Global Campaign for Free Expression, and the Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD).

The Joint Declaration responds to a variety of new and old threats to independence and diversity of the media, setting out the standards that states have to meet to ensure genuine protection for press freedom in the modern world.

The threats addressed by the Declaration come from a range of actors including hostile statements from public officials, the abusive use of government power, physical attacks, harassment and intimidation towards individual journalists and impunity for these attacks, and emerging online threats.

The Joint Declaration recognised the challenges faced by the media in today’s digital economy and the changes brought about by these challenges. It points to the need to counter such issues and the effects the digital age is having on the media.

Special Rapporteurs have issued Joint Declarations on contemporary challenges to freedom of expression every year since 1999. This Declaration was therefore a follow up to Joint Declarations of 26 November 1999, 30 November 2000, 20 November 2001, 10 December 2002, 18 December 2003, 6 December 2004, 21 December 2005, 19 December 2006, 12 December 2007, 10 December 2008, 15 May 2009, 3 February 2010, 1 June 2011, 25 June 2012, 4 May 2013, 6 May 2014, 4 May 2015, 4 May 2016 and 3 March 2017.

The 2018 Joint Declaration makes a number of recommendations to States and other relevant stakeholders. These include creating an enabling environment for seeking, receiving and imparting information and ideas, including through legislation that fully complies with international freedom of expression standards; and guaranteeing respect for media independence and, in particular, editorial independence and the independence of media regulatory bodies.

The Declaration also recommended that State Members be scrupulous about promoting and protecting media freedom and independence during elections, respecting the right of the media to report freely during election periods and to criticise government policy and political figures.

Another important recommendation is the protection of journalists and others who are at risk of being attacked for exercising their right to freedom of expression, to launch effective investigations when such attacks do occur, so that those responsible may be held accountable, and to offer effective remedies to victims.

The Declaration asked that effective systems be put in place to ensure transparency, fairness and non-discrimination in access by the media to State resources, including public advertising and create an economic environment which supports a diverse media landscape. It also sought  to ensure that all aspects of media markets, including advertising, content production and distribution, operate in a fair and competitive manner which is protected against anti-competitive practices on the part of those holding strong or dominant market positions.

Surveillance was also covered by the declaration as it sought to ensure that State Members do not conduct surveillance, including of a digital nature, against media outlets or journalists unless provided by law and is necessary and proportionate to protect a legitimate State interest and put in place effective practical and enforceable measures to avoid identifying confidential journalistic sources indirectly.

Other actors addressed by the Declaration include politicians, public officials, media outlets, and online platforms. It asked media outlets and online platforms to operate as transparently as possible, give users the tools needed to identify content creators, and prioritisation in a non-discriminatory and technologically neutral way as well as to take their responsibility to respect human rights seriously. The Declaration noted that this will enhance their social responsibility and professionally push  for the adoption of code of conduct, fact checking and self-regulatory systems.

The Declaration can be found here.