"Why does free expression and media matter?"

"Why does free expression and media matter?"

DCMF director, Jan Keulen has highlighted the importance of defending the right to be informed, speaking out against self-censorship in Qatar.
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DCMF director, Jan Keulen

On the occasion of International Human Rights Day 2012, Doha Centre for Media Freedom director, Jan Keulen spoke at an Al Jazeera-hosted event to mark the day, where he made the following statement:


Why does free expression and media freedom matter?

At the Doha Centre for Media Freedom, we believe freedom of expression is the right from which all other human rights flow. Human Rights Day presents an opportunity, every year, to celebrate human rights, highlight a specific issue, and advocate for the full enjoyment of all human rights by everyone everywhere. Today on the 10th of December 64 years ago, in 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by the general assemble of the UN.

This year, the spotlight is on the rights of all people — women, youth, minorities, persons with disabilities, indigenous people, the poor and marginalised — to make their voices heard in public life and be included in political decision-making.

These human rights — the rights to freedom of opinion and expression, to peaceful assembly and association, and to take part in government, have been at the centre of the historic changes in the Arab world over the past two years, in which millions have taken to the streets to demand change.

Why do we believe the freedom of expression underlies all other human rights?  The right to life, liberty and security of person don’t mean anything if they cannot be communicated freely. Indeed we would not know if they would be respected without a free flow of information. The same goes for all other human rights, such as equality before the law, non-discrimination, the right not to be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile, the right of freedom of movement, the right to have a nationality etcetera, etcetera.

Maybe the freedom of media and freedom of expression are the most vulnerable of all those human rights. There is hardly a country on this planet where the freedom of the media is not under attack, in one-way or another. That is why our job at the Doha Centre for Media Freedom is so important but also so difficult.

Defending freedom of expression and the struggle against censorship and self-censorship are universal and do not stop at any borders. We cannot defend them in one country and keep silent about them in another.

A few weeks ago a Qatari poet was sentenced to life imprisonment because of a poem he had written. We are not going to make any specific comments regarding the case as the original sentence has been appealed. But obviously we are highly concerned about this case and the effects it may have on freedom of expression and hence media freedom in this country.

Prominent international human rights organisations and the international media reported extensively on this case but the Qatari media remained silent. Including until now, I must admit, the Doha Centre for Media Freedom. But today is the day, I feel, to speak out and to break the barriers of fear. We still don’t know all the details about this particular case, but we feel local media failed their mission and should be able to inform the general public in this country. To inform and be informed: it is simply a question of basic human rights.


Jan Keulen, director DCMF

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