LONDON- DEC 7, 2022 -THE Commonwealth has urged member states to respect the right to freedom of expression and promote free flow of information and ideas.
And the Commonwealth advises media owners to recognise that ownership entails a commitment to inform citizens about matters of public interest and not merely to advance partisan or personal interests.
This is contained in the Commonwealth Principles on Freedom of Expression and the Role of the Media in Good Governance (as revised by the Member Country Expert Working Group) released this week.
According to the principles, freedom of expression is a cornerstone of democracy and underpins good governance, public accountability and respect for all human rights.
“Any restrictions on freedom of expression should be in accordance with standards established in international human rights law. Restrictions such as those which are essential to prevent incitement to violence, hatred or discrimination, should be prescribed by law, and necessary in pursuit of a legitimate aim,” according to the principles.
The Commonwealth holds that access to information held by public bodies was key to promoting transparency, good governance and full participation in the democratic process.
“Laws which provide for official secrecy in matters of national security should be in accordance with relevant obligations under international human rights law and apply only where unauthorised disclosure poses a demonstrable risk of serious harm to national security,” it states.
It advises member states to ensure their laws protect the judiciary from threats or acts of violence, abuse and other forms of intimidation. The criminal law and contempt proceedings should not be used to restrict legitimate discussion of matters concerning the judiciary and the courts,” according to the principles. “Media have a responsibility not to undermine the authority or independence of the judiciary, not to prejudice or interfere with pending court proceedings, and to communicate judicial decisions to the public fairly and accurately.”
The Commonwealth advises public bodies to promote and respect the role of the media in the democratic process, especially during elections and referenda.
It states that free, fair and credible elections are possible only where the electorate is well-informed about election matters and has access to accurate, sufficient, diverse and pluralistic information, among other necessities.
The Commonwealth also notes that safety of journalists and media workers is essential to preserve fundamental right to freedom of expression.
It states that threats or acts of violence, abuse, harassment or other forms of intimidation, including sexual and gender-based violence against women journalists and media workers, curtail freedom of expression and undermine public trust in, and the credibility of, journalism.
“Member states should take prompt measures to protect journalists and media workers when they face a serious threat of harm or are subject to violence,” it states.” “Protection should extend not only to professional journalists and media workers but also to bloggers and others who engage in forms of self-publication in print, on the Internet or other media.”
While advising media owners to provide their employees with adequate training, equipment and support to operate in dangerous environments and appropriate assistance in emergencies, the Commonwealth also advises member states to act decisively to end impunity through impartial, prompt and effective investigations into all alleged cases of killings, attacks and ill-treatment of journalists and media workers, by prosecutions to bring the instigators and perpetrators of such crimes to justice and by the provision of effective redress for the victims.
It also advises media organisations and journalists to set and supervise their professional standards and codes of practice.
“Journalistic ethics require that the media should report accurately and fairly, issue corrections, allow a fair opportunity to reply when appropriate and, subject to legitimate public interest, respect the right to privacy and personal dignity, particularly of minors,” according to the principles.
“Media owners should recognise that ownership entails a commitment to inform citizens about matters of public interest and not merely to advance partisan or personal interests. It is part of the media’s responsibility to ensure that journalists are adequately trained and that their private interests do not distort their reporting of public issues.”
It advised member states to promote universal and affordable access to the Internet and refrain from arbitrary shutdowns, blocking, filtering and other measures preventing or restricting access to it.
First Secretary – Press