Participants at the 2019 World Press Freedom Day (WPFD) International Conference have proffered solutions to various stakeholders on how to address the challenges facing journalism and elections in times of disinformation.
They called on each UNESCO Member State, including their Electoral Management Bodies, to, among other things: create, strengthen and/or implement an enabling legal and policy framework in line with international standards to guarantee respect for freedom of expression and privacy, to foster a diverse, independent media sector, and to ensure that relevant officials are properly trained so as to abide by that framework in practice, as agreed in various conventions.
The participants also called on them to adopt and/or implement right to information laws and policies and the required mechanisms to give effect to them, as per Sustainable Development Goal 16.10; and put in place transparent and effective systems to protect journalists, including press cartoonists, artists, ‘artivists’ and others who are at risk of attack for exercising their right to freedom of expression, thereby ensuring that they can carry out their public watchdog role effectively, including during elections;
The also called on UNESCO and the rest of the UN to encourage the development of electoral assistance strategies aiming at building trust between all electoral stakeholders, including the media, throughout all electoral operations in order to build ownership and capacity for the delivery of credible, inclusive and transparent elections.
Participants further encouraged Member States, especially those undergoing peaceful transition towards democracy, to ensure that all proper constitutional and institutional guarantees are in place to guarantee that elections take place with due process and inclusion of all stakeholders in order to ensure public trust and acceptance of election results.
UNESCO and the UN were also urged to continue to provide leadership in the implementation of the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity, and strengthen impunity accountability mechanisms and relevant stakeholder coalitions and networks of focal points, and within Member States where appropriate.
Regional Intergovernmental Organisations were also encouraged to strengthen existing governance mechanisms such as the Africa Peer Review Mechanism, as well as the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance which provides for democratic, credible and peaceful elections managed by impartial and independent electoral management bodies under conditions that guarantee press freedom, access to information and safety of journalists.
The participants also called on them to share good practices such as the “Guidelines on Access to Information and Elections in Africa” which cover the roles of authorities responsible for appointing the Election Management Bodies; Election Management Bodies; Political Parties and Candidates; Law Enforcement Agencies; Election Observers and Monitors; Media and Online Media Platform Providers; Media Regulatory Bodies; and Civil Society Organisations.
Furthermore, participants asked regional Intergovernmental Organisations to share good practices such as Resolution 48 of the 2018 General Assembly of the OAS reaffirming the right to freedom of opinion and expression as essential ingredients during electoral periods to achieve accountability from political actors, as well as to strengthen open debate and the right of citizens to receive information from a plurality of sources in order to exercise their political rights.
The participants did not leave out journalists, media outlets, electoral practitioners, Internet intermediaries and social media practitioners whom they called on to ensure that media and internet companies respect the human rights of their users and others; work to ensure that the public is provided with a diverse range of accurate information about parties, candidates and issues, and about any efforts to manipulate or influence the election, so that voters can make informed electoral choices; and make public the ownership, editorial line and political position of a media house, and maintain a separation between verified news on the one hand, and comment and opinion on the other.
These and other recommendations were contained in the communiqué issued at the end of the World Press Freedom Day 2019 international Conference which took place in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia from May 1 to 3, 2019.