April 5, 2012.
First of all I want to express my gratitude to the organisers of this important event to have us invited.
The Doha Centre for Media Freedom (DCMF) is a non-profit organisation that aims to promote freedom of expression, access to information and journalism quality in Qatar, the Middle East and the world at large.
The Centre’s activities include direct assistance to journalists; training and education of media workers; research and outreach activities, a media literacy program and a website with the latest news and features on press freedom issues around the world (www.dc4mf.org).
DCMF sees the safety and protection of journalists as an essential pre-condition to a well functioning media and we adopted safety as one of the central themes of all our activities. By the way, we named our Safety Programme, consisting of training, advocacy and lobby activities, after Ali Hassan Jaber, the Qatari martyr for press freedom who was murdered last year near the city of Benghazi in Libya.
After listening to so many interesting presentations in the last two days painting a grim picture of the safety situation for media workers in the Arab world, I would like to focus on a number of practical issues. I would like to share with you the following thoughts.
We heard yesterday some ideas on possible regional actions and about the usefulness of an Arab convention or mechanism against impunity. We discussed the possible role of the Arab Ligue and the creation of an Arab Court for Human Rights. Yes, that would be wonderful. But we all know that it will take a long time before the policies of Arab governments towards media issues will change. Yes, there is some progress in improving the legal framework for media in some Arab countries. But we all know there still is a long way to go. So let’s keep the creation of regional inter-governmental mechanisms in the back of our mind as something very useful in the long term, but let’s not be paralysed in the short term. Because there are things we can do regionally and practically and I think we can do them now, or at least in the coming months.
1. We could agree on a simple declaration or convention on press freedom, access to information and the safety and protection of media workers in the Arab world. It could be a short document based on international standards and on the many UN declarations, conventions, resolutions and standards we all know so well. The bottom line is: we want freedom to do our job as journalists to inform the public, the public has the right to know, and we want safety, security and protection to do our job as media workers.
2. This declaration could be drawn up and signed by Arab journalists associations and unions, media NGO’s, media houses (the employers and owners of media companies), human rights organisations and other stakeholders.
3. The parties supporting this Arab Convention on Press Freedom and the Safety of Media Workers unite in a platform to follow-up any violations and cases of impunity. The platform could organise investigative committees and fact finding missions to countries where the rights of journalists are violated. In that sense the Platform could constitute itself as a united, powerful and effective lobby group Arab governments and the Arab Ligue and other regional and international institutions cannot ignore.
4. To this end the Platform has to create a number of effective mechanisms. It should be wonderful to have something like a Rapid Deployment Force of experienced observers, experts in matters of law and media, who can be sent on very short notice to investigate, monitor and in some cases maybe even intervene, in cases of flagrant violations of journalists rights.
5. The Platform may use innovative means. I’m not talking about the use of social media, that’s only natural in this age of Facebook and Twitter. But I’m thinking for instance about the so called ‘Arizona project’. Based on a media rights mechanism, first enrolled in Arizona, journalists under threat should not necessarily be helped to flee the country, but a dozen of other (regional) journalists should be flown in, to also cover on the subject that caused threats. It is a simple idea that only requires extra funding, not only to raise awareness about an important journalistic subject, but it will also have a preventive impact: whoever threatened the reporter, will think twice the next time independent news is produced.
Maybe all of this sounds a bit utopic. I know it’s sometimes difficult to cooperate and to unite. But I have the feeling the issues of press freedom and safety and protection are very close to our hearts and we agree all that action should be taken and should be more effective. The situation in our region is dramatic. The DCMF documented 23 cases of killing of media workers in Syria alone since the beginning of the uprising in that country. And it’s the tip of the iceberg, as we all know.
If you agree with my general idea I propose we’ll form a small initiative group to elaborate on the mechanisms of such a platform and how to take it forward.
Thank you very much.