As leaders from the 53 Commonwealth countries prepare to fly to London for a Summit meeting next week, six Commonwealth organisations on Wednesday unveiled proposals for a 12-point Commonwealth code of conduct aimed at reducing the killing of journalists and other threats to the media’s right to report.
According to a Commonwealth Journalists Association press release, 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, home of the Institute of Commonwealth Studies (ICWS).
“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 Unesco, the UN Agency with a mandate to defend freedom of expression, show that 57 journalists were killed for their work in Commonwealth countries between 2013 and 2017.
“Media freedom is in peril,” said Mahendra Ved, President of the Commonwealth Journalists Association. “The Commonwealth should now demonstrate the will to defend it through actions, not just words. I believe these guidelines can help to make the commitments real.”
The principles were drawn up by a Working Group representing journalists, academics, parliamentarians, lawyers, legal educators, and human rights advocates across the Commonwealth.
The document reflects international standards and best practices with regard to the relationships between the media and the three branches of government, effective protection 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 in the Working Group, said: “The 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, which will protect both freedom of expression and the activities of responsible journalists.”
Unesco’s statistics show that fewer than ten percent of all killings of journalists in Commonwealth countries have 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 legitimate right to report in the public interest.
The Commonwealth Summit will take place in London from April 16-20.
The six signatory organisations to the “Commonwealth principles on freedom of expression and the role of the media in good governance” are the Commonwealth Journalists Association, Institute of Commonwealth Studies, Commonwealth Lawyers Association, Commonwealth Legal Education Association, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, and Commonwealth Parliamentary Association UK.