Stop demonising critical media, UN rights expert tells govts

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UN Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression, David Kaye, has urged governments to end the “demonisation” of critical media and ensure the protection of journalists.

Kaye, who was appointed by the UN Human Rights Council to monitor freedom of the media and the safety of journalists globally, made the call in Geneva, ahead of the World Press Freedom Day commemorated on May 3.

“On World Press Freedom Day, the world recognises the role that free media plays in democratic society.

“Yet on every day of the year, including World Press Freedom Day, those who practise journalism face censorship, criminalisation, harassment and, all too often, physical attacks and murder.

“Governments must act to secure press freedom, release detained journalists and end the public demonisation of critical media,” he said.

The rights expert pointed out that there was no doubt that journalists themselves had worked to maintain or build trust within their own societies.

“In some regions, the expansive and decentralised nature of contemporary media, with its heavy economic reliance on advertising, spectacle, and items whose main purpose is to attract attention to a website, has forced media outlets to take risks that do not always pay off.

“In others areas, media concentration and state domination of the media crowd out independent reporting,” he said.

According to him, independent journalists everywhere must confront intentionally misleading and deceitful stories, such as “fake news” and disinformation.

Journalists, he added, were also being forced to devote dwindling resources to correcting the record and providing access to accurate information.

“The work of journalism as a public watchdog over government has become ever more difficult, but ever more important, in our digital age,” he said.

On the World Press Freedom Day, Kaye said he recognised the hard work that remained for journalists and publishers to strengthen their essential role in providing everyone with access to information.

According to him, it is, however, far more important to direct attention to those governments and political leaders who work incessantly to undermine not only the practice of journalism but the right everyone enjoys under international human rights law to seek.

He added that the essential role of journalists to receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers and through any media, was also important.

“All too many leaders see journalism as the enemy, reporters as rogue actors, tweeps as terrorists and bloggers as blasphemers.

“Government harassment of the media is a global crisis. In this crisis, I call on all governments to take steps to protect and promote independent journalism,’’ he said.

He specifically called on those in positions of authority to release all being held in detention for exercising their right to freedom of expression.

“Hundreds of journalists are held in prisons around the world today, but nobody should be detained for this reason,” he said.

He also called on those in positions of authority to repeal legislation manifestly inconsistent with freedom of expression.

“All too many states legislate in ways that directly undermine journalism and the freedom of expression.

“They should be repealing laws that, among other things, criminalise defamation, particularly laws that penalise the insult of government authorities or lèse majesté,” he said.

The rights expert also urged governments to take action to investigate and hold accountable all those responsible for attacks on journalists.

“This past year has seen repeated attacks on journalists, leaving many dead or injured. Often terrorist groups carry out such attacks to silence opposition, secularists or atheists.

“Too often threats are not met with effective protection by law enforcement or, in their aftermath, genuine investigation and prosecution.

“States need to make accountability a priority. Resist the temptation to order critical websites to take down content or otherwise block information sources online.

“States are increasingly blocking websites, ordering platforms to take down content, and, in some circumstances, ordering the shutdown of network services,” he said.

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