International special rapporteurs for free expression highlight 10 critical challenges

ARTICLE 19

On 5th February, the four international special rapporteurs on freedom of expression have released their tenth annual Joint Declaration on Ten Key Challenges to Freedom of Expression in the Next Decade. Brought together by ARTICLE 19 and the Centre for Law and Democracy in February 2010, the special rapporteurs have issued a Joint Declaration each year since 1999.

The 2010 Joint Declaration, which reaffirms all the previous declarations, acknowledges important advances made for free expression over the past decade, especially regarding the enormous potential of the Internet as a tool for realising the rights to freedom of expression and information.

At the same time, the Joint Declaration notes both the long-standing and emerging challenges to the full realisation of freedom of expression and identifies ten key threats as follows:

1. Increasing government control over the media through a range of mechanisms, including political influence over public media, punitive registration and licensing requirements, political ownership, and the use of antiquated rules.

2. Criminal and civil laws on defamation, slander and insult, which penalise statements which are factual or opinions, or which protect the reputations of symbols, state institutions or religions, or allow for overly harsh penalties.

3. Violence against journalists and the failure to prevent and investigate such attacks, and bring those responsible to justice.

4. The failure by a majority of states to adopt laws guaranteeing the right of access to information, and the weak implementation of such laws in many states which have.

5. Discrimination against historically disadvantaged groups who struggle to exercise their right to freedom of expression.

6. Commercial pressures, including a growing
concentration of media ownership and the risk that public broadcasters will lose out during processes of digital switchover in many countries.

7. Challenges to the public funding support for public service and community broadcasters.

8. National security interests being used to justify unduly broad limitations on freedom of expression.

9. Government restrictions on the Internet, through the imposition of firewalls and filters, or the blocking of websites and web domains.

10. The limited access to the Internet by vulnerable people, such as the poor, and rural or elderly populations.

"These Joint Declarations elaborate on the meaning of freedom of expression according to different thematic areas," says Dr Agnès Callamard, ARTICLE 19 Executive Director. "Collectively, the Declarations provide important guidance to those wishing to understand international human rights standards on freedom of expression."

The four special mandates on freedom of expression are Frank La Rue, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression; Miklos Haraszti, the Representative on Freedom of the Media of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe; Catalina Botero, Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression for the Organisation of American States; and Pansy Tlakula, Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information for the African Commission on Human and People's Rights.

The four special mandates on freedom of expression were brought together by ARTICLE 19 and the Centre for Law and Democracy. ARTICLE 19 first brought the special mandates on freedom of expression together in 1999 and they have issued a Joint Declaration every year since then.


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