IPI makes recommendations for international journalism [Archives:2008/1167/Last Page]

June 26 2008

By: Mohammed Bin Sallam
Concluding its 57th General Assembly held in the Serbian capital of Belgrade in the presence of 400 participants from 120 countries, the International Press Institute, or IPI, recently made its recommendations regarding the current state of international journalism.

During the assembly, which was attended by Yemen Times Reporter Mohammed Bin Sallam, who compiled the following report, participants discussed various resolutions aimed at reducing obstacles for journalists and their profession in various world nations. As indicated below, some of the resolutions also touched upon the threats posed to journalists and reporters by security agents in numerous countries and regions.

Resolution on the erosion of source protection

IPI members criticized measures diluting journalists' right to protect the confidentiality of their sources everywhere, but particularly in Europe.

Long-awaited draft legislation intended to offer journalists better protection, submitted to Serbian Parliament in mid-May, provided little comfort. Its vague wording obliging journalists to reveal information when a “pressing need requires it” is unlikely to offer strong support for journalists with information of interest to law enforcement.

More subtle threats are posed by the implementing of a 2006 European Union directive requiring telecommunications companies to retain – from six months to two years – certain information regarding all telephone calls, e-mails and short messages for potential use in criminal investigations.

In Germany, under legislation enforcing this EU directive, information on journalists' communications with confidential sources could be made available to authorities upon request.

In the United Kingdom, where telecommunications traffic data already is retained under a voluntary agreement between telecommunications companies and the government, proposed legislation would require companies to transmit that data to the government for storage.

These developments require a very high level of faith in law enforcement's capacity for self-restraint, despite a pattern of aggressive, wide-reaching searches of media offices and journalists' homes across the continent, often under the guise of fighting terrorism.

The European Council and its Human Rights Court often have upheld the public interest in protecting journalists' sources, which strengthens the media's role as society's watchdog. That role would become exceptionally difficult if news media were forced to rely on sources that were unsure whether journalists could protect their identities.

For this reason, IPI members urge governments to give full consideration to the public interest served by the right of journalists to protect sources when drafting legislation or when conducting legal investigations and prosecutions.

Resolution on journalists' freedom to report natural disasters

IPI members called on governments to respect journalists' right to report freely on natural catastrophes and their aftermaths, permitting them to collect and disseminate information about such events.

When earthquakes, hurricanes, floods and other disasters strike, media coverage serves many essential purposes. In their immediate aftermath, it can save lives by supporting the proper coordination of rescue and relief efforts. In the longer run, unrestricted reporting submits to public scrutiny the efficacy of government responses to disasters, as well as any malfeasance that may exacerbate damage.

Resolution on nations' failure to respect Article 19

On the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, IPI members expressed deep concern at the number of countries who have signed the declaration, but fail to apply in their countries the freedom of expression and press freedom principles contained in the declaration's Article 19.

As a result, these nations' media frequently have been assailed by punitive and other measures obstructing the free flow of information and preventing journalists from doing their duty to keep the public informed.

Article 19 states that everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression, including the freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas via any type of media, regardless of frontiers.

Applying these principles is essential in order to enable the media to fulfill its watchdog role regarding the conduct of affairs by government and other institutions. Those nations that don't enable media to perform this important function not only abrogate a cornerstone principle of United Nations membership, but also lose their claims of being regarded as democracies.

IPI members call on countries to examine their standards of conduct in relation to Article 19 and their media and also requests the United Nations investigate adopting measures to ensure that countries live up to these important principles.

Resolution on journalists' arrests in South Africa

IPI members expressed alarm at the increasing number of arrests of journalists and photographers reporting on or photographing the actions of police at crime scenes or other incidents in South Africa.

On several occasions within the past year, journalists have been summarily bundled into police vans and imprisoned, sometimes for an entire night. In all instances, their alleged crimes – never clearly spelled out at the time of their arrest – have been thrown out of court, mainly on the grounds that there's no evidence upon which to base prosecution.

Media organizations in South Africa have perceived this conduct by the authorities as an attempt to prevent the public from being informed about official conduct and to intimidate journalists.

At the same time, IPI members have noted increasing complaints from journalists and others about the refusal of government officials and local authorities to supply information in response to questions. Additionally, certain authorities have refused to deal with newspapers that have criticized official conduct to the extent of refusing to place advertisements in those papers, clearly designed to harm such papers' financial viability and coerce their editors into being less critical.

IPI members condemn these actions as attempts to impose censorship via indirect means, calling on the South African government to order its staff and others in authority to abide by freedom of expression and freedom of media principles in that nation's constitution.

IPI members are deeply distressed that South Africa, which was lauded when it introduced its new enlightened constitution in 1996 after years of censorship by the previous apartheid regime, would allow such flagrant deviation from those fine principles so soon after beginning to play a leadership role on that continent.

Resolution on journalist's murders in Serbia

IPI members further expressed concern over the fact that the perpetrators of the murders of journalists in Serbia remain at large and called on Serbian authorities to intensify their investigations into these cases.

IPI members welcomed assurances by Serbian President Boris Tadic in opening the general assembly that Serbia would uphold press freedom and pursue investigations of journalists' murders.

With journalists increasingly seen as easy targets, failure to bring to justice the perpetrators of such attacks sends dangerous signals; thus, IPI members urge Serbian authorities to take active steps to investigate vigorously these attacks.

IPI members also believe Serbian authorities should improve that nation's climate which militates against journalistic investigations of corruption. Companies and public agencies should refrain from using their placing of advertising to influence the editorial views of media outlets.