Media experts have called for heightened efforts to address legal and political challenges facing media freedom around the world, highlighting the situation in the Arab region where the media is particularly restricted.
The appeal was made during two forums organised by the Doha Centre for Media Freedom (DCMF) in cooperation with the Public Liberties and Human Rights Desk at Al Jazeera Network and the United Nations Human Rights Training and Documentation Centre for south-west Asia and the Arab region.
The events were held in Tripoli, Libya to mark World Press Freedom Day.
Participants pushed for a review of international press laws and called for legal tools and guarantees to be put into place to protect journalists and punish those who commit offences against them because of their work.
The Al Jazeera angle
Al Jazeera’s managing director Mustafa Souag outlined the challenges that the network has faced since its 1996 launch. These obstacles were extensive, he said, because the channel emerged in a context of hostility towards media freedom and support for state sponsorship.
He stated that the network had managed to uphold editorial standards of impartiality and independence despite harassment from Arab and western states, noting that maintaining these standards has seen the channel’s journalists imprisoned and killed and offices around the world closed.
Despite its success, Soug admitted that Al Jazeera has made mistakes.
"Those who are in charge of the channel are at the end of the day humans and are not infallible," he said, explaining that these unintentional mistakes are corrected whenever they are identified.
He also echoed the call for a review of international press laws, arguing that numerous flaws currently render them incapable of providing the necessary security and protection to journalists.
Collaboration required to improve situation
Hasan Rachidi, DCMF Special Projects manager, pointed to the behaviour of various governments as seriously hindering the region’s media freedom.
He argued that authorities too often use the excuse of defending national security to target journalists, especially those who are not based under their own direct rule.
Stifling the media affects all stakeholders in society, and Rachidi suggested that organisations for the protection of journalists must work with governments and journalists themselves to establish the necessary legal frameworks and conditions to carry out their work freely and responsibly.
Libyan human rights activist, Reda Fhelboom noted that there has been a recent increase in the number of journalists being targeted and that perpetrators of these crimes are not being held to account.
He said that at least 33 journalists were killed throughout the region in 2011. This year in Syria and Somalia alone, nine others have lost their lives.
Killing, kidnapping, and criminal and defamation laws are used comprehensively by governments to silence their critics in the media, while others find themselves losing their jobs and licenses over charges of inciting civil strife and posing a threat to security and stability.
Fhelboom outlined a number of laws and treaties which could be adopted to improve media freedom in the region, but warned that legislation is rendered meaningless unless it is enforced and implemented across the board.