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UN expert calls for democratization of the media

International Day of Democracy – Friday 15 September 2017

GENEVA (15 September 2017) – Democracy and self-determination are crucial in preventing national, regional and international conflict, but are under attack from ‘fake news’, incomplete news and political correctness, says Alfred de Zayas, United Nations Independent Expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order, in a statement to mark International Day of Democracy on 15 September:

“Democracy is essential to achieving a more just world order. Only by genuinely reflecting the interests of the people can governments stem the tide of disillusionment, exploitation and conflict that plague today’s world.

True democracy requires education, access to multiple, reliable sources of information and opinion, consultation in good faith with all those affected by decisions, and open debate free of intimidation, ostracism and the constraints of ‘political correctness’.

It means combining majority rule with respect for minority opinions and the human dignity of all. 

True democracy cannot function properly without a pluralistic and free press, but ‘fake news’, ‘spin’ and campaigns focused narrowly on trendy issues confuse and corrupt the democratic process.

It is not only governments that engage in the dissemination of fake news – false or deliberately skewed information – but also the private sector, corporate media, and other conglomerates that try to create what Noam Chomsky called ‘manufactured consent’.

While freedom of opinion and expression are indispensable to democratic society, such freedoms must serve – not manipulate – democracy.  What is needed is free access to pluralistic information and opinion – rather than homologated news services that echo each other and try to impose a ‘politically correct’ version of reality.

The media has a responsibility to disseminate information, without selectively suppressing pertinent facts, or forcing the facts into a single possible interpretation. Democracy needs alternative news services and a general democratization of the media.

Democracy exists when there is a direct correlation between the will of the people and the policies that affect them. This requires more than pro forma periodic voting, especially given that such exercises demonstrate a lack of genuine choice in terms of candidates and rarely result in policy change.

Direct, participatory and responsive democracy, in all its forms, is of critical importance, and must be used to enable people to give genuine, free, prior and informed consent before governments enact legislative and other decisions that impact on their lives.

UN Member States affirmed at the ground-breaking 2005 World Summit that democracy, development and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms were interdependent and mutually reinforcing.

They also noted the significant fact that, while democracies share common features, there is no single model of democracy. All peoples and nations have the right to find their own formula for democracy. Indeed, democracy is an expression of self-determination.”

Mr. Alfred de Zayas (United States of America) was appointed as the first Independent Expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order by the Human Rights Council, effective May 2012. He is currently professor of international law at the Geneva School of Diplomacy. Mr. de Zayas practiced corporate law and family law in New York and Florida. As a Human Rights Council mandate holder, he is independent from any government or organization and serves in his individual capacity.

The Independent Experts are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

For more information and media requests, please contact Ms. Aminta Ossom (+41 22 917 9611 / aossom@ohchr.org) or write to ie-internationalorder@ohchr.org

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