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Panellist Joseph Ailonga, Chairperson of Namibia Editors' Forum speaking at the event.

Speaker at media freedom discussion

Freedom and safety of journalists around world is key human rights issue: Commonwealth panel

9 July 2019

Members of a discussion panel co-hosted by the Commonwealth have said the safety and freedom of media workers is linked to the achievement of sustainable development goal 16.10, which ensures public access to information.

The Commonwealth’s Human Rights Unit and UNESCO hosted the discussion on media freedom during the 41st session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva.

The panel was made up of representatives from UNESCO, civil society and the Ethiopian and Namibian governments. 

Discussions focused on sharing good practices and how countries can identify and tackle common challenges associated with meeting international human rights obligations for press freedom and safety.

Namibia Editors Forum chairperson, Joseph Ailonga, emphasised that media freedom is a fundamental liberty enshrined in Article 21 of his country’s constitution. 

He added: “Namibia is the ‘Mother’ of World Press Freedom Day through the Windhoek Declaration on Promoting an Independent and Pluralistic African Press of 1991.”

Ethiopia’s Ambassador in Geneva, Zenebe Kebede Korcho, highlighted the changes that have been instituted in Ethiopia which have led to the release from prison of all journalists and bloggers. 

He said media houses which had previously been exiled are now functional in Ethiopia, leading to them jumping from 150 to 110 on the 2019 World Press Freedom Index

In addition, more than 200 websites and blogs have been unblocked with many radio stations, TV channels and newspapers now freely operating in the country. 

The panel discussion was attended by more than 40 people with 22 Commonwealth and non-Commonwealth states represented. 

Discussions built on the Commonwealth’s work on threats to the electoral process from information and communication technology at the World Press Freedom Day global conference hosted by UNESCO and the Ethiopian Government. 

Saorla McCabe, a programme specialist for UNESCO’s Division for Freedom of Expression and Media Development, said that nearly 90 per cent of journalist killings remain unresolved.  She spoke about the importance of countries working with stakeholders to curb impunity with regard to violence against journalists.

Ms McCabe concluded by saying that “such an event really allows such good practices to be shared, and UNESCO and the Commonwealth Secretariat can work together in highlighting such good practices; and encouraging other member states to follow these examples.” 

Karen McKenzie, the Commonwealth’s Head of Human Rights, said: “The Addis Ababa Declaration, the SDGs, the Universal Periodic Review and the Commonwealth Charter are all entry points to reflect on the current state of protections for freedom of expression, media freedom and the safety of journalists.

“There has been some improvement but if we were to do an honest respectful reflection, there must be agreement that we have much of a journey still to travel. We are hopeful member states will use the Global Conference for Media Freedom, which is being hosted by the UK and Canada in London on 10 and 11 July, to again reflect on their international human rights commitments.”

This event continues a series of dialogues on media freedom and the safety of journalists convened by the Commonwealth to share peer-to-peer best practice and discuss the challenges to full protections.