World Press Freedom Day: Call to protect freedom of expression

On World Press Freedom Day, 116 days after the attack at the office of the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo that left 11 dead and 12 wounded, we, the undersigned, reaffirm our commitment to defending the right to freedom of expression, even when that right is being used to express views that we and others may find difficult, or even offensive.

The Charlie Hebdo attack – a horrific reminder of the violence many journalists around the world face daily in the course of their work – provoked a series of worrying reactions across the globe.

In January, the office of the German daily Hamburger Morgenpost was firebombed following the paper’s publishing of several Charlie Hebdo images. In Turkey, journalists reported receiving death threats following their re-publishing of images taken from Charlie Hebdo. In February, a gunman apparently inspired by the attack in Paris, opened fire at a free expression event in Copenhagen; his target was a controversial Swedish cartoonist who had depicted the prophet Muhammad in his drawings.

A Turkish court blocked web pages that had carried images of Charlie Hebdo’s front cover; Russia’s communications watchdog warned six media outlets that publishing religious-themed cartoons “could be viewed as a violation of the laws on mass media and extremism”; Egypt’s president Abdel Fatah al-Sisi empowered the prime minister to ban any foreign publication deemed offensive to religion; the editor of the Kenyan newspaper The Star was summoned by the government’s media council, asked to explain his “unprofessional conduct” in publishing images of Charlie Hebdo, and his newspaper had to issue a public apology; Senegal banned Charlie Hebdo and other publications that re-printed its images; in India, Mumbai police used laws covering threats to public order and offensive content to block access to websites carrying Charlie Hebdo images. This list is far from exhaustive.

Perhaps the most long-reaching threats to freedom of expression have come from governments ostensibly motivated by security concerns. Following the attack on Charlie Hebdo, 11 interior ministers from European Union countries, including France, Britain and Germany, issued a statement in which they called on internet service providers to identify and remove online content “that aims to incite hatred and terror”. In the UK, despite the already gross intrusion of the British intelligence services into private data, Prime Minister David Cameron suggested that the country should go a step further and ban internet services that did not give the government the ability to monitor all encrypted chats and calls.

This kind of governmental response is chilling because a particularly insidious threat to our right to free expression is self-censorship. In order to fully exercise the right to freedom of expression, individuals must be able to communicate without fear of intrusion by the state. Under international law, the right to freedom of expression also protects speech that some may find shocking, offensive or disturbing. Importantly, the right to freedom of expression means that those who feel offended also have the right to challenge others through free debate and open discussion, or through peaceful protest.

On World Press Freedom Day, we, the undersigned, call on all governments to:

• Uphold their international obligations to protect the rights of freedom of expression and information for all, especially journalists, writers, artists and human rights defenders to publish, write and speak freely;
• Promote a safe and enabling environment for those who exercise their right to freedom of expression, especially for journalists, artists and human rights defenders to perform their work without interference;
• Combat impunity for threats and violations aimed at journalists and others threatened for exercising their right to freedom of expression and ensure impartial, speedy, thorough, independent and effective investigations that bring masterminds behind attacks on journalists to justice, and ensure victims and their families have speedy access to appropriate remedies;
• Repeal legislation which restricts the right to legitimate freedom of expression, especially such as vague and overbroad national security, sedition, blasphemy and criminal defamation laws and other legislation used to imprison, harass and silence journalists and others exercising free expression;
• Promote voluntary self-regulation mechanisms, completely independent of governments, for print media;
• Ensure that the respect of human rights is at the heart of communication surveillance policy. Laws and legal standards governing communication surveillance must therefore be updated, strengthened and brought under legislative and judicial control. Any interference can only be justified if it is clearly defined by law, pursues a legitimate aim and is strictly necessary to the aim pursued.

PEN International
Adil Soz – International Foundation for Protection of Freedom of Speech
Africa Freedom of Information Centre
Albanian Media Institute
Association of European Journalists
Bahrain Center for Human Rights
Belarusian PEN
Brazilian Association for Investigative Journalism
Cambodian Center for Human Rights
Canadian Journalists for Free Expression
Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility
Centre for Independent Journalism – Malaysia
Danish PEN
Derechos Digitales
Egyptian Organization for Human Rights
English PEN
Ethical Journalism Initiative
Finnish PEN
Foro de Periodismo Argentino
Fundamedios – Andean Foundation for Media Observation and Study
Globe International Center
Guardian News Media Limited
Icelandic PEN
Index on Censorship
Institute for the Studies on Free Flow of Information
International Federation of Journalists
International Press Institute
International Publishers Association
Malawi PEN
Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance
Media Institute of Southern Africa
Media Rights Agenda
Media Watch
Mexico PEN
Norwegian PEN
Observatorio Latinoamericano para la Libertad de Expresión – OLA
Pacific Islands News Association
PEN Afrikaans
PEN American Center
PEN Catalan
PEN Lithuania
PEN Quebec
Russian PEN
San Miguel Allende PEN
PEN South Africa
Southeast Asian Press Alliance
Swedish PEN
Turkish PEN
Wales PEN Cymru
West African Journalists Association
World Press Freedom Committee

World Press Freedom Day 2015

Media freedom in Europe needs action more than words
Dunja Mijatović: The good fight must continue
Mass surveillance: Journalists confront the moment of hesitation
The women challenging Bosnia’s divided media
World Press Freedom Day: Call to protect freedom of expression

Media freedom in Europe needs action more than words

As we approach World Press Freedom Day, the right to freedom of expression will again be celebrated as an inalienable European value across the continent — by the public, the media and politicians alike. But to many, this will mean little more than engaging in a well trodden mental routine. We hardly consider the difficulties that freedom of expression faces in practice.

In the first part of 2015, more than a third of journalist killings in the word took place in two European countries; France and Ukraine. If it is true that Europe’s reactions to the Charlie Hebdo attack — the majority of them very emotional — were salubrious, they simultaneously gave rise to ambiguous situations. Many of the leaders that will on 3 May reaffirm their commitment free expression, supported the same message by taking part in the historic march in Paris on 11 January.

But upon seeing Angela Merkel, some were also reminded that Germany continues to treat blasphemy as a crime — as do Denmark, Spain, Poland and Greece, among others. Ireland, whose Enda Kenny was also in attendance, has a constitution which specifically mentions blasphemy and in 2010 enacted a new law against it. All these European countries defend themselves by saying that they do not apply their laws against “blasphemers”. That argument does not carry much weight when it comes to opposing those countries — Saudi Arabia, Iran, various Asian countries — that have tried to turn blasphemy into a universal crime recognised by the UN.

Spain’s Mariano Rajoy too marched in solidarity, but his government has taken steps to promote changes in the penal code that would “represent a serious threat to freedom of information, expression and the press”.

And what was Viktor Orban doing in Paris? The Hungarian president has reunified Hungary‘s public media so as to better bind them to his own party. Despite being the leader of an EU country, Orban has followed Vladimir Putin’s example. In this experimental model, the Andrei Sakharov Center and Museum is no longer ordered to close as it was in the old days, but rather fined 300,000 roubles (€5,000) for failing to register as a “foreign agent”. One day brings an announcement of compulsory registration for bloggers in Russia; another day, harassment against Russian and Hungarian NGOs perceived as “unpatriotic”.

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutohlu traveled to Paris, only to later label Charlie Hebdo’s post-attack issue a “provocation”. A reminder: Turkey is an EU candidate country where dozens of journalists have been sentenced to prison, and where various internet sites, including those that dared to reproduce some of Charlie Hebdo’s caricatures, have been blocked.

But also present at the march, were various representatives of European journalists — myself included. Just behind the Charlie Hebdo survivors, we carried a banner with the message “Nous sommes Charlie”.

Walking next to me was Franco Siddi, of the Italian National Press Federation. He talked to me about how imprisonment for defamation is still a possibility in Italy, though the European Court of Human Rights has ruled it a disproportionate punishment.

In my home country Spain too, this possibility of imprisonment remains, even if under Spanish jurisprudence freedom of expression consistently prevails over the demands of plaintiffs. In Italy, the situation is the same, yet my Italian colleagues point out that in 2014 alone, 462 journalists in the country were threatened with legal action for alleged acts of defamation. And while the current proposal for reform being considered foresees eliminating the possibility of jail time, it increases the potential fines.

This is not the only potential legal threat facing European journalists. Long before 9/11, there existed a reflexive habit of passing “urgent” laws under security pretexts, as in the UK during the most difficult years of the Northern Ireland conflict. The current model is the United States’ Patriot Act, which has recently been discussed in France. Meanwhile, in Britain and Spain are debating what free expression activists describe as “gag laws”. In Macedonia, the sentencing of the investigative journalist Tomislav Kezarovski to two years in prison under one of these security inspired laws stands out as a warning sign.

Against this worrying backdrop, across Europe journalists, freedom advocates, campaigners and even politicians are standing up for press freedom. When Gvozden Srecko Flego, member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, recently highlighted the cases of Russia, Ukraine, Turkey and Azerbaijan as particularly problematic, he also suggested a countermeasure. He recommends “organising annual debates […], with the participation of journalists’ organisations and media outlets” in the respective parliaments of each state.

Media concentration, one of the most serious challenges to media pluralism and free expression in Europe, is being tackled. One proposal, which some international bodies have already accepted, would create a “Media Identity Card” requiring owners to publicly identify themselves and thus create an environment of more open and transparent media ownership.

When defending freedom of expression as a European value, we cannot allow ourselves to simply fall in into mental routines. This World Press Freedom Day we need both words and actions.

Paco Audije is a member of the Steering Committee of the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)

World Press Freedom Day 2015

Media freedom in Europe needs action more than words
Dunja Mijatović: The good fight must continue
Mass surveillance: Journalists confront the moment of hesitation
The women challenging Bosnia’s divided media
World Press Freedom Day: Call to protect freedom of expression

This column was posted on 1 May 2015 at

Dunja Mijatović: The good fight must continue

OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Dunja Mijatović, at the Permanent Council in Vienna, 16 January 2014. (Photo: OSCE)

OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Dunja Mijatović, at the Permanent Council in Vienna, 16 January 2014. (Photo: OSCE)

Anniversaries and commemorations are times to reflect, judge and move forward. So it is with World Press Freedom Day, which we note for the 22nd time this year amid worldwide evidence of hostility toward the media.

The date of 3 May was set aside by the UN General Assembly in 1993 to foster free, independent, pluralistic media worldwide.

The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, the largest regional security organisation in the world, just four years later in 1997 created the position I now hold, the Representative on Freedom of the Media. The position was established expressly to help countries that are members of the organisation (which includes all of Europe, the countries of the former Soviet Union and Mongolia, as well as the United States and Canada) implement their promises to uphold the rights to free expression and free media.

It is my job to advocate for these two concepts. It is also my job to help, cajole and sometimes plead with the 57 nations in the organisation to simply live up to their promises to provide the environment in which free expression and free media can flourish.

Over the past 18 years only three people have held the position of Representative. As I enter my sixth and last year in this position, the time has come to reflect on the state of media freedom and to analyse the overall health of free expression across the OSCE region.

To do so, I needed a base from which to judge. I found that by returning to the very first public statement issued by the Representative’s office, then headed by German politician Freimut Duve, on 7 September 1998. It announced, ironically, that Duve had been denied a visa by authorities in Belgrade to visit the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, to lobby the government to change its policy of denying visas to reporters from other countries, some of whom were considered foreign intelligence agents.

The Helsinki Final Act of 1975, the very document that eventually brought the OSCE into existence, expressly called for improving the working conditions for journalists, which included examining “in a favorable spirit and within a suitable and reasonable time scale requests from journalists for visas” and to “grant to permanently accredited journalists…on the basis of arrangements, multiple entry and exit visas for specified periods”.

Duve wrote in the public statement: “Tito himself, as President of the former Yugoslavia, signed in 1975 his country’s acceptance of the principles and commitments of the Conference for Security and Cooperation in Europe.”

Those commitments expressly included the right of journalists to work internationally.

Promises made. Promises not kept.

Have things changed over the years?

The fact that you are reading this posting identifies you as someone well aware of the precarious position journalists and the media find themselves in today. They face a litany of problems, none of which is bigger than the issue of life itself.

The year 2015 hardly had started when eight journalists for the French magazine Charlie Hebdo were murdered in their office in Paris – over the depiction of a religious figure. Two weeks later, a discussion group in Copenhagen convened to talk about the Paris incident came under gunfire with another person killed. So much for free media. So much for free expression.

But we all know that while homicidal violence against journalists is the most drastic form of attack on free media, it is not the only one. Across the OSCE region media is subject to all nature of offences: criminal defamation laws that put reporters in jail for rooting out corruption in public places; cyber-attacks that plague internet media sites; new laws that are being adopted to criminalise free expression in the name of fighting terrorism; and increasing regulation of the internet in an effort by authoritarian governments to squelch media and free expression advocates.

The simple violations of media rights continue, too. In the past 12 months I have written to authorities and issued public statement on at least six occasions condemning the refusal of governments in the OSCE region to grant visas to foreign-based reporters. Have things really changed in 2015 from 1998? Only the countries involved; not the practices.

But even if my judgment on the past 18 years is harsh, media freedom advocates, such as me, must continue to move forward and provide the defenses necessary for free expression and free media to flourish. Complacency is not an option.

Solidarity, however, is.

For example, three rapporteurs on free expression from the United Nations, the Organization of American States and the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights and I annually issue a joint declaration on a topic related to free expression. Those declarations now are seeing their way into decisions of national and international bodies, including judgments of the European Court of Human Rights. This is real progress. Decisions upholding citizens’ rights under Article 10 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms are real results.

And all of us must continue to raise the issue of the rights of media before national legislatures. Public awareness campaigns on behalf of media can be effective tools to prod elected officials to spend the resources, including political capital, necessary to build environments conducive to free expression. Elected officials and their appointed, often nameless and faceless bureaucrats, can be taught and encouraged to write good laws and appoint good law enforcement authorities, including police, prosecutors and judges, to interpret those laws in a fashion that will provide oxygen for those who champion free expression.

It is easy to become disillusioned and depressed by the daily fare of media issues. We should recognise the perilous state of free media and free expression in many spots in the world. But we never should lose our focus. We should take note of this date and make a personal commitment to stand for the basic human rights of free expression and free media – this year and the next and the years after that.

World Press Freedom Day 2015

Media freedom in Europe needs action more than words
Dunja Mijatović: The good fight must continue
Mass surveillance: Journalists confront the moment of hesitation
The women challenging Bosnia’s divided media
World Press Freedom Day: Call to protect freedom of expression

This column was posted on 29 April 2015 at

Mass surveillance: Journalists confront the moment of hesitation

(Illustration: Shutterstock)

(Illustration: Shutterstock)

Wrestling with his fear about Googling the composition of a carbon dioxide bomb after hearing of a failed bombing at LAX, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung journalist, Peter Galison highlights one of the threats of mass surveillance to journalistic practice, “The knowledge that I might be walking into a security word search had been enough to make me hesitate.”

Following Edward Snowden’s leaks outlining the capabilities of intelligence agencies around the world to monitor, track and collate private online communications this moment of hesitation before tackling a story has become a major concern to journalists globally.

Pen International surveyed 772 fiction and non-fiction writers and found out that more than 1 in 3 writers in so-called free countries (34%) said they had avoided writing or speaking on a particular topic following the NSA revelations.

While Ryan Gallagher of The Intercept states “self-censorship is never the only available option” he acknowledges that his practices have changed:

“In the post-Snowden environment I definitely use encryption tools much more to communicate with people, mainly because more of my colleagues and contacts have now adopted these tools. It’s no longer a niche thing…the Snowden revelations were a big wake-up call for people.”

Encryption and anonymity software have emerged as the primary set of tools available to journalists to protect themselves, their stories and their sources. Indeed in the light of the leaked information, they have taken on added significance; the ability to depend on robust communication security may be the difference between coverage and self-censorship.

Jillian York, director for international freedom of expression at the Electronic Frontier Foundation outlines this central anxiety: “I’ve spoken to journalists who, upon realizing the extent of the NSA’s surveillance, have changed their practices. Some have adopted encryption…while others say they are afraid to cover certain topics.”

This tension between technical literacy and forms of self-censorship defines journalism in the mass surveillance age. As Cyrus Farivar of Ars Technica writes: “less tech-literate journalists may not even be aware of the threats that they may or may not face”.

The advent of blogging and social media, as well as the increase of citizen journalism around the world has enabled a diverse range of voices to join the debate around key issues but as Chris Frost, the chair of the ethics council at the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) states, this can expose many more people to the threat of mass surveillance: “Freelance journalists, citizen journalists and bloggers would need to be sure that they have the technical know-how to safeguard their sources and understand the potential risks involved.”

Are key issues being avoided by those unable to guarantee total security in their communications? And if this is the case, what voices are being silenced?

This is not a threat for journalists alone. For Chris Frost and the NUJ, security and anonymity for sources is paramount: “Without the protection of sources, some people will refuse to speak to the media, for fear of being exposed.” As Ryan Gallagher says: “Quite simply, we don’t have a choice. We must protect our sources and we can’t do that if we don’t change the way we operate online.”

The ability of journalists to protect information from the state is also a vital step in protecting themselves when reporting in conflict zones. As Chris Frost writes, “if journalists are perceived as informers to the authorities, or as future witnesses in a trial, they can become a target.” Mass surveillance is a central tool for states to acquire and share information with its intelligence partners around the world. Implicating journalists as the source of the leak further endangers their safety and therefore their willingness to cover certain issues, as Ryan Gallagher articulates: “Some people may find it too daunting and just steer clear.”

The first principle on the International Federation of Journalists’ Declaration of Principles is “Respect for truth and for the right of the public to truth is the first duty of the journalist”, and this highlights the divergent interests of the state and the media. Where truth is withheld by the state, often in the name of “national security”, the role and responsibilities of journalists in informing the public is brought to the fore. Mass surveillance technologies are powerful tools for states to hinder and restrict this process, manipulating the media landscape to benefit their own aims and objectives at the expense of an informed and engaged civil society.

How journalists learn to navigate this landscape will determine their continued willingness and ability to report on sensitive issues, defending journalism in the public interest across the globe.

But, as Ryan Gallagher reminds us, this willingness is not easily defeated: “Thankfully there are a lot of courageous reporters in the world who will work to get out important information to the public no matter what. So fear will never be completely effective at shutting down media coverage.”

World Press Freedom Day 2015

Media freedom in Europe needs action more than words
Dunja Mijatović: The good fight must continue
Mass surveillance: Journalists confront the moment of hesitation
The women challenging Bosnia’s divided media
World Press Freedom Day: Call to protect freedom of expression

This article was posted on 28 April 2015 at