AS leaders from the 53 Commonwealth countries attend the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in London from yesterday to Friday, six Commonwealth organisations on April 11 unveiled proposals for a 12-point Commonwealth code of conduct to reduce the killing of journalists and other threats to the media’s right to report.
The Commonwealth Principles on Freedom of Expression and the Role of the Media in Good Governance were made public at the University of London’s Senate House, the home of the Institute of Commonwealth Studies.
“Governments are always keen to shape the political message. Media freedom is hard won and needs constant vigilance and active defence,” said Dr Sue Onslow, deputy director of the institute, who opened the meeting to mark the publication of the principles.
Figures published by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, the agency with a mandate to defend freedom of expression, showed that 57 journalists were killed for their work in Commonwealth countries between 2013 and last year.
Commonwealth secretary-general Patricia Scotland said last year that the number of journalists killed represented “a serious indictment of our collective efforts to build a safer and more inclusive future”.
Among the reported cases last year were the fatal shooting of editor and journalist Gauri Lankesh in India in September, and the car bombing in October that killed investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia in Malta, the chair-in-office of the Commonwealth.
Mahendra Ved, Commonwealth Journalists Association president, said: “Media freedom is in peril.
“The Commonwealth should demonstrate the will to defend it through actions, not just words. I believe these guidelines can help to make the commitments real.”
The Commonwealth Principles on Freedom of Expression and the Role of the Media in Good Governance were drawn up by a working group representing journalists, academics, parliamentarians, lawyers, legal educators and human rights advocates in the Commonwealth.
The document reflects international standards and best practice with regards to the relationships between the media and the
three branches of government, effective protections for the independence of the media and its role in informing the public, the media’s respect for accuracy and fairness, and promoting member states’ observance of the principles.
Desmond Browne QC, who represented the Commonwealth Lawyers Association on the working group, said: “CLA has been proud to play a part in drafting these important principles. The intention is that they should provide a universal Code for the Commonwealth that will protect freedom of expression and the activities of responsible journalists.”
Unesco’s statistics show that fewer than 10 per cent of killings of journalists in Commonwealth countries resulted in those responsible being brought to justice.
Human rights groups say that the high rate of impunity is at odds with the Commonwealth’s commitments to the rule of law and protecting the media’s right to report in the public interest.
The six Commonwealth organisations that are putting forward the principles say they want them to be adopted by the Commonwealth as a “manual of good practice” to assist governments, legislatures, judiciaries and the media to contribute in appropriate ways to promoting open, democratic and accountable societies, in accordance with Commonwealth values.
COMMONWEALTH JOURNALISTS ASSOCIATION; INSTITUTE OF COMMONWEALTH STUDIES; COMMONWEALTH LAWYERS ASSOCIATION; COMMONWEALTH LEGAL EDUCATION ASSOCIATION; COMMONWEALTH HUMAN RIGHTS INITIATIVE AND COMMONWEALTH PARLIAMENTARY ASSOCIATION UK