International Journalists Groups to Work with Muslim Media to Ease Cartoon Crisis

The International Federation of Journalists today welcomed an agreement among leaders of journalists, editors, publishers and broadcasters and other media experts to work with colleagues from Arab and Muslim communities to defuse the crisis over controversial cartoons which has caused outrage in many parts of the world.

The IFJ hosted a meeting on Wednesday which considered a comprehensive statement on a joint approach to meet the challenges of the recent cartoons crisis which has seen violent demonstrations, a number of deaths and numerous death threats to journalists and media people.

“The media community is determined to create a meaningful dialogue that will improve understanding between communities, that will reduce tension and that will enhance the quality of journalism on all sides,” said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary.

A key commitment was to encourage groups representing media professionals from Europe and the Arab and Muslim world to have dialogue and to work together to raise awareness among journalists from different communities about the need for more informed and ethical reporting of inter-cultural and religious affairs.

“The meeting has shown that media professionals are ready to face the challenges posed by the recent crisis,” said White. “We are resolute in our defence of free expression and united in our view that ethical and professional duties are the sole responsibility of journalists and should not concern governments. But we are equally aware that we can do more to improve the quality of reporting.”

The meeting unanimously rejected proposal for new codes of conduct, guidelines or new laws in response to the controversy over cartoon which depicted controversial images of the Prophet Mohammed, something that is forbidden under Islamic tradition.

“Existing voluntary codes, some of them in force for more than 50 years serve journalism well,” they said. The conclusions of the meeting are set out below:

The International Federation of Journalists hosted a meeting in Brussels on 15 February 2006 at which media professionals discussed the publication in Denmark and elsewhere of cartoons which have caused regrettable offence to many people in Europe and around the world. The following statement was agreed:

1. While all professional groups understand well the need to consider cultural and religious feelings at all times in the exercise of journalism, they are united in their condemnation of the violence, intimidation, deaths and death threats that have accompanied some protests over the publication and republication of these cartoons.

2. The meeting reaffirms, without compromise, that freedom of expression and opinion is a fundamental and core value of democracy and human rights that should not be subject to any undue restraint.

3. The meeting believes that all media, on all sides, must act professionally in dealing with religious and cultural issues and rights of minorities, and should not do anything that would create unnecessary tension by promoting hatred or inciting violence.

4. At the same time, the meeting is unanimous in the view that the ethical and professional duties of journalism are the sole responsibility of journalists and other media professional in the free exercise of their work.

5. The meeting does not accept that new supranational codes of conduct or other guidelines or new laws are needed. Existing voluntary codes, some of them in force for more than 50 years, serve journalism well.

6. The meeting welcomes efforts to promote dialogue and to raise awareness among journalists and media on all sides about the need for ethical and responsible practice.

7. The participants agree to promote co-operation within and between professional groups and welcomes initiatives to promote dialogue among journalists from different cultural traditions.

8. The aim of such co-operation should be to strengthen media quality and to raise awareness among journalists of the need for informed reporting in context when dealing with inter-cultural and religious matters.

Finally, the participants agree to co-ordinate their efforts in the coming months and request the IFJ to call further meetings of media professional groups to discuss these issues at both regional and international level; they also call on representative media professional groups from the Arab and Muslim world to participate in this process.

Brussels February 15th 2006

This statement is issued in the name of the Association of Commercial Television (ACT), the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), the European Federation of Magazine Publishers (FAEP), the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and the International Press Institute (IPI).

Other non-signatory participants at the meeting included representatives of the Arab Reporters for Investigative Journalism, the Danish Union of Journalists European, the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance of the Council of Europe (ECRI), the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC), the European Newspaper Publishers' Association, the International Media Support, the World Editors Forum of World Association of Newspapers, UNESCO and leading international correspondents from the Brussels press corps.

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The IFJ represents more than 500,000 journalists in over 100 countries