Groups of Friends on the Safety of Journalists issue a Joint Statement on Press Freedom
On 3 May 2021, the chairs and members of the five Groups of Friends on the Safety of Journalists at UNESCO in Paris, at the UN in New York and Geneva, at the OSCE in Vienna and at the Council of Europe in Strasbourg have joined forces to issue a Joint Statement on the occasion of the World Press Freedom Day. A total of 45 Member States also co-signed the statement.
This joint statement illustrated the importance given by a growing number of Member States to support a free, independent and pluralistic media landscape, and to uphold freedom of expression and freedom of the press as fundamental human rights. The statement notably payed tribute to the African newspapers journalists who met in Windhoek, Namibia in 1991 and produced a statement of press freedom principles, known as the Windhoek Declaration. On the 30-year anniversary of this Declaration, this joint statement recognized the critical impact of this landmark document, which testified to the international community’s commitment to freedom of the press, and to fostering an enabling environment for journalists and media workers around the world.
In particular, the Joint Statement by the Groups of Friends on the Safety of Journalists recognized the legacy of the Windhoek Declaration, which gave rise to the World Press Freedom Day in 1993, since then celebrated annually on the 3rd May, to the Guillermo Cano Prize in 1997, as well as inspired further regional declarations, such as the Declaration of Alma Ata in Kazakhstan in 1992, the Declaration of Santiago de Chile in 1994 and the Declaration of Sana’a in Yemen in 1996 and finally, in 1997, the Declaration of Sofia. The principles enshrined in these declarations still hold true today, and constitute a foundation for freedom of the press and the safety of journalists, both online and offline.
In this regard, the Joint Statement notably emphasized the essential role played by journalists and media workers to ensure access to reliable and verifiable information as a public good, even more critical in the context of the COVD-19 pandemic, and called for an end to impunity for crimes committed against them. The specific threats faced by women journalists were also underlined in the Joint Statement by the Groups of Friends, which emphasized the importance of countering gender-based violence. It is worth mentioning here the recent report published by UNESCO, The Chilling: Global trends in online violence against women journalists, which points to a sharp increase in online violence against women journalists in recent years. As a result, the Joint Statement called for increased efforts to guarantee the safety of journalists, notably through an effective judicial process and accountability, in order to ensure that attacks committed against them do not go unpunished.
In addition, by calling for greater transparency and accountability of internet platforms, the statement also recognized the growing challenges of misinformation and disinformation in the age of digitalization, and pointed to the need to enhance media and information literacy globally, in order for that all individuals to benefit from their right to seek, receive and impart information.
As part of its ongoing multi-stakeholder work to promote and protect human rights in the digital ecosystem, UNESCO also lunched the Issue Brief Letting the sun shine in: transparency and accountability in the digital age in series of the World Trends in Freedom of Expression and Media Development.