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Committing to media freedom the focus of Commonwealth meeting

By Nicholas Wassajja

Added 17th April 2018 11:03 AM

The principles include freedom of expression as a cornerstone of democracy, restrictions on freedom of expression, access to information and parliaments/judiciaries and the media.

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The principles include freedom of expression as a cornerstone of democracy, restrictions on freedom of expression, access to information and parliaments/judiciaries and the media.

PIC: The CHOGM meeting will focus on press freedom

COMMONWEALTH MEETING


The Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in London is set to consider 12 new principles relating to the freedom of expression and the role of the media in good governance.

The principles include freedom of expression as a cornerstone of democracy, restrictions on freedom of expression, access to information and parliaments/judiciaries and the media.

Others include the role of media in elections, safety of journalists, ending impunity, media self-regulation, media regulation, observance of the principles and upholding Commonwealth values. 

The principles that have already been adopted by the Commonwealth Journalists Association, the Institute of Commonwealth Studies (ICWS) and a host of other partner organisations like law and human rights bodies, are aimed at re-focusing of the Commonwealth priorities and live up to its commitments to protect press freedom.

According to the ICWS president in Uganda, Alice Drito, “because the media plays an essential role in informing the public and strengthening the accountability and transparency of governments, CHOGM will also consider the effective implementation of the principles by member states and engage with the commonwealth secretariat for that purpose.”

The renewed commitment comes on the backdrop of increased numbers of journalists and media practitioners whose human rights have been abused in Commonwealth countries and the growing threats to media independence.

Figures published by The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNSECO) indicate that 57 journalists were killed for their work in Commonwealth countries between 2013 and 2017.

In Uganda, there has been general constricting of the freedom of media space and some of the widely reported cases in 2017, include the abduction of New Vision journalist Charles Etukuri, Police interrogation of New Vision weekend editor Felix Osike, arrest and detention of eight Red Pepper journalists, detention without trial of veteran journalist Isaac Bakka and cases of Police flogging journalists covering its disciplinary committee trails.

The 12 Commonwealth principles were first made public last week at the University of London’s Senate House, the home of ICWS and now await CHOGM consideration.

Officiating at the meeting to mark the publication of principles, Dr Sue Onslow, the ICWS deputy director, said: “Governments are always keen to shape the political message. Media freedom is hard won and needs constant vigilance and active defense.”

Last year, the Commonwealth secretary general, Patricia Scotland, said the number of journalists killed for doing their work is, “a serious indictment of our collective efforts to build a safer and more inclusive future.”

In response to the growing challenges to media freedom and other threats, last year, the Commonwealth Journalists Association and ICWS set up a working group representing journalists, academics, parliamentarians, lawyers and human rights advocates across the Commonwealth to draw up the principles.

The Commonwealth Charter commits member states to democracy, human rights, freedom of expression, the rule of law and good governance.

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