Media freedom is a basic human right

Journalists protest along Kenyatta Avenue in Nakuru town to Mark the world press freedom on May 3, 2018. [Harun Wathari/Standard]
World Press Freedom Day, marked every year on May 3, provides an opportunity to reflect on the important role the media plays in defending and advancing free speech worldwide.

This year’s theme "Media for Democracy: Journalism and Elections in Times of Disinformation," highlights the important work of journalists to promote and protect democracy, human rights and development.

Journalists speak up for the vulnerable and hold governments to account. But it is our duty as individuals, institutions, and especially governments, to respect and uphold the right to freedom of expression enshrined under Article 19 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. As Canadians, we view the freedom of expression as a basic human right. It is a key element of democratic and prosperous societies and is essential to the realisation of our other human rights.

Unfortunately, abuses of the right to freedom of opinion and expression continue to happen online and offline, including attacks against or threats towards journalists. Attacks, prejudice, and verbal violence have no place in traditional media or social media.

Report facts

Digital technologies have brought significant changes to the way we communicate. Widespread use of digital media has led to an explosion of fake news, preventing people from accessing truth. Efforts to advance media freedom must seek to protect the media’s right to speak and the public’s need to access information of public's interest.

Media plays an essential role in defending and advancing the truth. Journalists must be allowed to report facts freely and independently, and they have a responsibility to do so.

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However, the capacity to speak truth to power and the capacity for citizens to engage with the truth is increasingly difficult in some parts of the world.

This is why we all must safeguard an open, accessible and safe environment in which these rights are protected. We must all respect existing international human rights standards, and speak out against abuses and violations, without fear of retribution.

This commitment does not fall solely with us but with media professionals as well.

Accurate, impartial media reports serve a fundamental public interest. In today’s information era, journalists are constantly working to "break" the latest news, while fake news undermines serious media coverage.

Press freedom

This makes it more difficult for readers to decipher which stories are real and which are only loosely based on the truth. Journalists, including social-media based ones, must abide by the codes of conduct that govern journalism. Inaccurate and reporting inflammation can have real social consequences.

As we join United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) and the rest of the world today in celebrating the 26th World Press Freedom Day, Canada will continue to support freedom of expression in our bilateral engagements as well as within the multilateral human rights system.

Canada and the United Kingdom will co-host a media freedom conference in London on July 10 and 11. Journalists, members of civil society and governments will be invited to participate in two days of discussions about Press freedom and the importance of defending the media against censorship, imprisonment, personal attacks and abuse.

We believe this conference will help find common ground in maintaining the integrity of the global information space. Through this conference and our other efforts, we hope to better protect the freedom of journalists to carry out their work.

Finally, on behalf of Canadians, thank you to all Kenyan journalists and those around the world who seek out truth, unravel fact from fiction, bring clarity and fairness to public debate, and encourage us to be open to new perspectives. Thank you for keeping us informed.

Ms Stadelbauer is Canada's High Commissioner to Kenya

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