A Free Press Is Indispensable for Good Governance and Transparent Societies


The Geneva Centre for Human Rights

GENEVA, May 3 2018  – On the occasion of the 2018 World Press Freedom Day commemorated on 3 May 2018, the Chairman of the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue, Dr. Hanif Hassan Ali Al Qassim (*), highlighted the importance of promoting freedom of the press to facilitate “good governance and transparent societies.”

Dr. Al Qassim noted that media, often referred to as the fourth estate, plays a central role in promoting the plurality of opinions and ideas in open and tolerant societies. “A free press acts as a voice for the public and as a watchdog. It provides checks and balances and holds leaders accountable to the public. A free press is indispensable for facilitating good governance and transparent societies,” Dr. Al Qassim said.

The Geneva Centre’s Chairman likewise cautioned against the rise of hate speech and online bigotry targeting religious communities. The “misconceived conflation between terrorism and Islam” – he noted – “has given rise to marginalization, bigotry and discrimination threatening the social harmony of multicultural societies worldwide. It has contributed to exacerbating animosities and artificial divisions between people.

“Media must play a more influential role in addressing prevailing misconceptions and misunderstandings that exist between people. Press freedom should not be used as a vector and catalyst for hate speech, bigotry and fear of the Other. The rise of hate speech and online bigotry – encompassing inflammatory and discriminatory smear campaigns singling out religious and ethnic groups – is a threat to press freedom and tests the boundaries of free speech.

“In the context where social media contributes to the dissemination of fake news without accountability, traditional media have an important role to play to promote awareness of false and inaccurate information. They may enlighten world public opinion by offering alternative narratives on contentious issues contributing to plurality of views and offering a voice to the voiceless,” Dr. Al Qassim asserted.

The Chairman of the Geneva Centre also noted that the lack of protective mechanisms for whistle-blowers challenges the concept of a free and open press. “The practice of silencing whistle-blowers constitutes a threat to press freedom and justice,” Dr. Al Qassim said.

The Geneva Centre’s Chairman added that the return to the founding principles of press freedom – encompassing inter alia accountability, liability and transparency – is key to addressing the challenges to press freedom. Dr. Al Qassim said respect for press freedom and the safety of journalists are key pre-requisites to promote peace, justice and strong institutions as stipulated in SDG 16 on Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The Geneva Centre’s Chairman said:

“This year’s annual theme ‘Keeping Power in Check: Media, Justice and The Rule of Law’ illustrates the importance of the interplay between access to information, freedom of expression and access to justice. Journalists have the right to work free from the threat of violence so they can carry out their important duties on behalf of the public. They must not be subjected to censorship, restrictive legislation, intimidation and violence.

“Societies that demonstrate respect for press freedom and the safety and freedom of journalists will make a valuable contribution to the fulfilment of the provisions set forth in SDG 16.”

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 Article sended to Other News by Mr. Blerim Mustafa Junior project and communications officer the Geneva Centre for Human Rights.

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* Chair of the Geneva Centre for Human Rights,  Dr. Al Qassim is Chairman and founder of the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue (GCHRAGD), an independent, non-profit, non-governmental organization dedicated to the advancement of human rights which was established in 2013 through consultation and training with youth, civil society and governments. In addition, he is a member of the Board of Trustees of the International Institute for Tolerance in 2017.

 

ANNEX:

Corruption reporting a leading cause of journalist killings in past 12 months

46 journalists worldwide lost their lives since last May in targeted attacks

International Press Institute (IPI)

This statement was originally published on ipi.media on 2 May 2018.

On February 22 this year, police found the bodies of Ján Kuciak, a reporter with the news website Aktuality.sk, and his girlfriend at his home in Slovakia. Kuciak had been investigating corruption in government; his reporting exposing links between an Italian crime mafia and some members of the Slovak government was published after his death. The killing led to the resignation of Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico.

In the past year, 88 journalists, including six women, were killed around the world. Of these, as many as 46 were killed in targeted attacks, in most cases because they were investigating and exposing corruption.

In the first four months of 2018 alone, 32 journalists, including a female journalist in El Salvador, were killed, making it an average of almost eight deaths a month. In the last eight months of 2017, as many as 55 journalists – amongst them five women – died, mostly as a result of targeted attacks.

The International Press Institute (IPI), a global network of editors, journalists and media executives, has tallied journalists deliberately targeted because of their profession and those who lost their lives while on assignment since 1997. According to IPI’s Death Watch project, as many as 1,801 journalists have died in the line of duty since 1997. The bloodiest year of the past two decades was 2012, when 133 journalists lost their lives. A year later, 121 were killed.

An analysis of the data of the last 12 months indicates that the pace of investigation into most cases of targeted killings has been slow and only a few suspects have been arrested or charged for these murders. Prominent amongst these killings are those of Kuciak in Slovakia; Daphne Caruana Galizia, who was killed in a car bomb explosion in Malta in October 2017; Gauri Lankesh, who was shot dead in September outside her home in India; and Javier Valdez Cárdenas, a well-known Mexican investigative journalist gunned down last May.

While the killings in Europe have attracted global condemnation and growing demands for the arrest of those responsible, there are dozens of cases around the world that have escaped international attention.

Latin America has emerged as one of the largest killing fields, where journalists covering drug trafficking and political corruption are particularly vulnerable. With 12 journalists killed in as many months, Mexico has become the deadliest place in the world to work in the media.

While journalists frequently lay down their lives attempting to bring facts to light and exposing nefarious practices, there are many others who die in the line of duty trying to report on armed conflicts – a majority of such deaths have recently occurred in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. Last month, two journalists covering a protest in Gaza were killed by Israeli snipers.

“The killing of a journalist remains the most brutal and effective way of silencing the news”, IPI Executive Director Barbara Trionfi said today on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day 2018. “People have a right to know what is happening around them and journalists – whether covering corruption or reporting from conflict zones – shed light on that information. The Death Watch tally over the past year represents a staggering loss not only for the victims’ family, friends, and colleagues, but also for democracy itself.”

IPI, which has been working for the protection and safety of journalists since 1950, has consistently urged governments to uphold democratic values by improving the safety of journalists.

“Unless governments take firm action and demonstrate that there will be no impunity, journalists will continue to be targets of threats, torture and assassination”, Trionfi said, underscoring the need for increased protection for journalists.