Special Rapporteurs Adopt Joint Declaration on Media Freedom and Democracy

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Freedom of expression and media freedom mandate holders at the United Nations and regional levels, representing four inter-governmental bodies, have urged Governments to adopt comprehensive measures for the safety of journalists and media workers to protect them from violence and all forms of online and physical attacks, threats and harassment, or illegitimate surveillance. Their call on governments is contained in a Joint Declaration they issued to commemorate the 2023 World Press Freedom Day

The United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression, and his regional counterparts – the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Representative on Freedom of the Media; the Organization of American States (OAS) Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression; and the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa met in New York and adopted the Joint Declaration on Media Freedom and Democracy.

Adopted, on May 3, 2023, they recalled and reaffirmed, in the declaration, the various other joint declarations they have previously made on the same issues.

The declaration outlines the interrelationship and interdependency of media freedom and democratic values and the critical role of media freedom in enabling and sustaining democratic societies. They also provided a set of recommendations to States and other stakeholders on how to secure and facilitate the media’s role as a vital institution and pillar of democracy.

Some of the recommendations for States include:

  • To ensure that all public bodies which exercise powers in print, broadcast, other media and/or telecommunications regulation, including bodies that receive complaints from the public, are independent, transparent, and effectively functioning in law and in practice.
  • To encourage a diverse and independent private broadcasting sector. In particular, adequate spectrum should be reserved for broadcasting services and the broadcasting spectrum should be used and managed in the public interest for reliable, diverse, and plural programming.
  • To adopt comprehensive measures for the safety of journalists and media workers and for their protection from violence and all forms of online and physical attacks, threats and harassment, or illegitimate surveillance. Such measures should integrate gender and intersectionality perspectives, among others.

Some recommendations for online platforms include:

  • To respect and comply with the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights: Implementing the United Nations ‘Protect, Respect and Remedy’ Framework. They should ensure that their terms of service and community guidelines are sufficiently clear, accessible, and in line with international human rights standards.
  • To publish comprehensive transparency reports about their decision-making processes, including automated processes of online curation and moderation of media content as well as trusted flagger-schemes. Transparency reports should also include information on removal requests concerning media content by States.
  • Periodically assess the impact of content curation processes on the effective exposure of their users to a broad diversity of media content and improve them to support the exposure of users to a variety of information from diverse sources.
  • Large online platforms should support an independent and pluralistic media landscape, including by fairly compensating for the use and monetisation of media content and promoting fact-checking initiatives.

Some of the recommendations for the media sector include:

  • To develop, set, and maintain effective self-regulatory mechanisms to uphold codes of conduct through transparent and participatory processes. Media entities should undertake effective steps to promulgate and implement such codes including through appropriate enforcement mechanisms. These self-regulatory systems should be suited to the political, cultural and economic environment in which journalists work, and be easily accessible to the public.
  • To adhere to high standards of information provision that meet recognised professional and ethical standards.
  • To refrain and clearly distance themselves from disinformation, discrimination, hate speech, and propaganda. Media should never serve as a vehicle for propaganda for war. In case of accidental errors in their reporting, media should promptly correct the information.
  • To commit to and promote pluralism in the media sector.
  • Be alert to the danger of discrimination or patriarchal and discriminatory stereotypes of women, minorities and groups at risk of discrimination being furthered by the media and in their reporting.

The rapporteurs were able to discuss the issues with the assistance of ARTICLE 19: Global Campaign for Free Expression and the Centre for Law and Democracy.

To download and read the full document, please click the Joint Declaration.