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Statements Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

Statement by the Deputy High Commissioner on Press and Freedom of Expression

03 May 2015

Let Journalism Thrive! Towards Better Reporting, Gender Equality, & Media Safety in the Digital Age

3 May 2015

Mr. President,
Madame Director-General
Ladies and gentlemen,

It is a pleasure to have the opportunity to be here, with journalists from across the world and all of you who work in support of freedom of expression or opinion.

Every State in the world needs journalism – sound, bold and independent. States that repress, attack or fail to protect journalism are targeting their own life blood: the fluid element that keeps fresh ideas and healthy questions circulating around the system, which builds in responsiveness, resilience, and accountability in the machinery of government – which in turn brings public confidence and legitimacy.

That is the immense power of journalism. And yet it is also fragile. We know that journalists are silenced, jailed or even killed, just because they are doing their jobs. In some States, Government officials or security forces harass, threaten or mistreat journalists, or lock them up on trumped-up charges. In others they are assaulted by non-State groups: terrorist movements, criminal gangs or angry mobs. Women journalists have been the target of sexual violence and distinctly gendered threats, sometimes of the most vicious nature.

Let me briefly discuss four challenges from a human rights point of view.

1. The digital age – which creates a wealth of opportunities for the dissemination of information and opinions, and at the same time, opens up new risks. Digital surveillance by Governments may have a powerful chilling effect on journalists' freedom of expression - as it makes it more difficult for them to communicate with sources, share and develop ideas and, what is worse, may lead to self-censorship. In some countries, people identified as dissidents, sometimes with information obtained through digital surveillance, may be arrested, tortured and otherwise abused. From a human rights point of view, insofar as they enable journalists’ freedom of expression, anonymity and encryption deserve protection and should not be unreasonably restricted.

2. With the emergence of new media, challenges are sometimes raised regarding who can be considered a “journalist”. From a human rights perspective, this is beside the point. All individuals are entitled to full protection of their human rights, whether the State recognizes them as “journalists” or not; whether they are professional reporters or “citizen journalists”; online or offline. The General Assembly of the United Nations and the Human Rights Committee have also made this point very clear. So yes, “bloggers” and “citizen journalists” deserve protection too. So does Raif Badawi. Alaa Abd El Fattah. And the list goes on and on.

3. There is all too often complete impunity for crimes committed against journalists and bloggers. Even murderers of journalists all too often escape justice. Existing norms and standards must be enforced. We have been pleased to work with our partner UNESCO and others in the development and implementation of the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity. I urge everyone present here today to rally behind this plan. To combat impunity, we now know what works: The creation of special investigative units; specialized training and methodological tools for law enforcement and judicial officers; and closer cooperation with regional accountability mechanisms, for instance. There can be no more excuses.

4. Last – but definitely not least – gender equality. The media can be a key player in supporting the realization of women's human rights. The increased media attention to horrific stories of sexual violence in conflict situations increases awareness and contributes to preventing such violence in the future. But too many violations of women’s and girls’ rights remain under-reported – domestic violence, widow disinheritance…

It is high time for women journalists to be given the same opportunities and consideration as men. And it is high time for women to receive the same coverage as men by the media. The deadline for that is now.

I look forward to our discussions.

Thank you.