Journalists Fight Back After Governments "Fail Test of Free Expression" In World Summit Talks

Journalists’ leaders from Latin America have launched a new demand for governments to back journalists’ rights and free expression at the weekend. This comes only days after political leaders met in Paris to prepare the agenda for December’s World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), and ignored demands to put press and media rights at the heart of the debate.

The Latin American organisation of the International Federation of Journalists, the world’s largest journalists’ group, issued the call for the summit organisers to reverse their approach at a conference organised by the IFJ and the German-based Friedrich Ebert Stiftung in Lima, Peru.

The declaration from the conference, supported by journalists in 12 Latin American countries, challenges governments to produce results at the summit that will guarantee free expression and access to new technologies, abolish laws that favour censorship and restrict use of the Internet, support special laws to limit media concentration, ensure information society workers enjoy international labour standards and encourage support for public broadcasting and protection of authors’ rights in developing the use of new communication technologies.

“So far, governments have had a failure of nerves over the organisation of the summit,” said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary. “They have particularly failed the test of free expression because the texts being prepared for the summit are more about the economic exploitation of information markets than about ending the digital divide between rich and poor and creating an information culture that is accessible and democratic.”

The IFJ was one of a number of groups that attended the WSIS Intersessional meeting in Paris on 15-18 July which brought together governments, business groups and civil society representatives to discuss a draft declaration and action plan for the summit.

“Astonishingly, this meeting ended without any specific reference in the texts to Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which guarantees freedom of expression,” said White. “Instead we have confused references to communication rights and free expression, which raises uncertainty about the commitment to defence of existing human rights. This is bad news for press freedom and casts a shadow over the summit.”

“Too many journalists and media workers today are the victims of violence and there is too much censorship, both of the Internet and media at large, to ignore the fact that freedom of expression has not yet been achieved in many countries of the world.”

The IFJ is also concerned that the protection of creators and the rights for authors to receive a fair remuneration for the use of their work do not appear in the draft Declaration and Action plan. Neither do the drafts reflect the fundamental rights of workers and the need for core labour standards for those working at the heart of the information society.

“The information society is about people, and people’s rights must figure prominently in the summit conclusions”, said White. “We do not accept that journalists’ and workers’ rights should be kept in the background of technological changes that will affect us all.”

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