Amid rising attacks, Commonwealth nations urged to tackle threats to media freedom

Call to sign 12-point code of principles; London to host CHOGM next week

Six Commonwealth organisations have called on member states to sign up to a 12-point code of principles on freedom of expression and the media, ahead of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in London next week, and amid concern about the threats faced by journalists.

A working group from the organisations, including the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative and the Commonwealth Journalists Association, unveiled the 12 principles to uphold “ an independent and vibrant” media across the community, in the face of a “marked increase in the number of threats and violent assaults, including murders, as well as arrests and imprisonment in the course of their work.”

‘Challenging situation’

“The situation for journalists is very challenging across the world — and affects every part of the Commonwealth. We have seen journalists murdered in India and also Malta. It is right that if the Commonwealth is to live up to its values, these issues are pushed to the forefront of people’s minds,” said David White, UK Director of the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, who sat on the working group.

He said the group hoped the code would be signed up to by the heads of government next week, but would also provide an impetus for a coalition of civil society organisations to act, and help identify and call out when the principles were not being adhered to. The principles include promoting “Freedom of Expression” and calling on states to respect it and the promotion of the free flow of ideas and information.

“Member states are urged to repeal or amend laws, which unduly restrict the right to freedom of expression, such as laws on sedition which criminalise speech” while the rights of whistleblowers must be protected, the guidelines suggest.

Collective pledges

It also calls on member nations to facilitate a “safe and enabling environment” for journalists, including bloggers and those self-publishing. “Member states are urged to act decisively to end impunity through impartial, prompt and effective investigations into alleged cases of killings, attacks and ill treatment of journalists and media workers,” says the report. Human rights issues across the Commonwealth are set to be highlighted in the run up to CHOGM, in the hope that collective pledges from states could spur change in a number of issues of growing concern. On Friday, the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative is set to launch a report on human trafficking, modern slavery, and child exploitation in the Commonwealth, where around 55 per cent of victims of slavery are estimated to live. “The legacy of colonialism, rapid population growth, poverty, unchecked economic globalisation, conflict, political instability and weakened governance have created a fertile environment for high levels of forced labour, modern slavery, human trafficking, child labour, and child soldiers,” says the report, adding that concerns on climate change added to the challenge of tackling the issue.

“Commonwealth Heads of Government Meetings can be defining moments in Commonwealth history,” said White. “It is to be seen whether this 2018 Summit will go down in the history for taking action against forced labour, modern slavery, human trafficking, child labour, and the use of child soldiers, but the CHOGM’s theme is ‘Towards a common future,’ and what better legacy could this Summit leave than serious and lasting Commonwealth action on (UN Sustainable Development Goal) 8.7?” Read More