IFJ Raises Press Freedom Concerns as United Nations Elects New Human Rights Council

The International Federation of Journalists today welcomed the commitment of the United Nations to a fresh start in its human rights work, but warned that with some of the world’s leading abusers of press freedom elected to the new Human Rights Council, journalists will have to wait and see if the new initiative means a serious change of direction in defence of free expression.

In a letter to the Secretary General Kofi Annan, the IFJ today also raised concerns about other developments which appear to compromise the UN’s commitment to free speech and independent journalism.

The IFJ is worried over plans for a global terrorism policy which Kofi Annan spelled out last week which includes action to “dissuade people from resorting to or supporting terrorist acts.” The IFJ fears this could open the door to interference in the work of media.

And a third issue which the IFJ has taken up concerns the UN policy of banning journalists from Taiwan from access to the World Health Assembly, one of the world’s major health conferences, a policy which the IFJ says discriminates against journalists, undermines the UN commitment to free speech and is motivated by internal politics.

In the letter to Kofi Annan, the IFJ says that the launch of the Human Rights Council is a powerful opportunity to confront major obstacles to the creation of a global culture of respect for fundamental rights, but this may be jeapordised when some of the countries elected this week – China, Cuba, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Tunisia among them – are states where press freedom is under pressure. “The credibility of the Council will depend utterly upon the capacity of the Council members to respect human rights at home and in journalism we have serious doubts about the commitment of some of these member states to deliver on promises of free expression,” says the IFJ.

Referring to the UN’s anti-terrorism agenda, the IFJ says that the Secretary General should reassure people in media that there is no intention to recruit media into a political campaign that could compromise the independence and professionalism of journalists.

“There is a widespread consensus that there is a need for co-ordinated action against all forms of indiscriminate political violence, but we know that some countries use the cover of ‘anti-terrorism’ to undermine the rights of citizens and to attack independent journalism. The UN should do nothing that encourages member states to go down this road,” says the IFJ, which last year published a major report Journalism, Civil Liberties and the War on Terrorism, which exposed how in the rush to legislate over terrorism civil liberties were being compromised.

Finally, the IFJ has again protested over the questionable UN policy of banning Taiwanese journalists from the UN’s Geneva venue for the annual World Health Assembly which opens on May 22. The IFJ is asking Kofi Annan to review the policy which excludes health journalists from Taiwan from reporting “on one of the world’s premier news events.” The IFJ says that the policy banning Taiwan journalists is not based upon clear resolutions of the General Assembly and appears to be politically-motivated.

“It is impossible not to conclude that this policy is political discrimination against independent, professional journalists and is unworthy of a global institution that stands for free speech and independent journalism,” says the IFJ.

The IFJ says that it fully supports its member organisation in Taiwan, the Taiwan Journalists Association, in their protests over the ban. “This is a policy that should be reviewed immediately,” says the IFJ. “On all of these issues we urge that you take steps to clarify the role and responsibility of the UN; by doing so you will maintain the credibility and standing of the UN and its role in the global fight for press freedom.”

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