States at Global Conference for Media Freedom must address concerns of free speech experts

Civic Space 5 min read
ARTICLE 19

Today, at the Global Conference for Media Freedom in London, the four special rapporteurs on freedom of expression have released their 20th anniversary Joint Declaration on Challenges to Freedom of Expression the Next Decade. The Declaration sets out the actions states and other actors must take to implement core standards on the right to freedom of expression, in response to new and long-standing threats to this right. ARTICLE 19 welcomes the Joint Declaration and urges states and other stakeholders to work jointly on addressing challenges to freedom of expression identified by the free speech mandate holders.

The 20th anniversary Joint Declaration does not address one specific free speech issue; instead it focuses on three main challenges for the next decade, which require action from states to protect freedom of expression:

  • Creating an enabling environment for exercise of freedom of expression
  • Building and maintaining a free, open and inclusive Internet
  • Addressing private control as a threat to freedom of expression.

In the declaration, the Special Rapporteurs highlight the continued prevalence of legal restrictions, internet shutdowns and other forms of online censorship, and attacks against journalists and human rights defenders as major threats to the right to freedom of expression around the globe. It calls on states to take action to protect media freedom through the promotion of media pluralism and safeguarding of independent regulatory bodies as well as ending impunity for attacks against journalists. The Special Rapporteurs also urge states and other actors, including digital companies, to take action to end threats to online freedom of expression, including through promoting the right of access to the internet for all, abiding by responsibilities set out in the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights in the application of private content rules, use of AI, and responses to challenges such as disinformation.

Joint Declarations by the four special rapporteurs on freedom of expression (from the UN, Organisation of American States, African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights and Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe) have been adopted annually since 1999, covering current universal challenges to freedom of expression. They are a unique opportunity for free speech experts to speak with a common voice and develop progressive standards in the field. Although not legally binding, joint declarations are ‘soft-law’ standards setting documents that have been providing guidelines to governments, courts and civil society in a broad area of freedom of expression issues.

“ARTICLE 19 welcomes the recommendations set out in the Joint Declaration, in particular its vital focus on challenges to freedom of expression in the digital space. How we defend our freedom of expression will determine whether our digital world is vibrant and open, or becomes shuttered and corporatised. It will determine whether vested interests are allowed to hide wrong-doing and silence those who investigate and expose,“ said Thomas Hughes, Executive Director of ARTICLE 19.

We urge the governments attending the Global Media Freedom Conference to pay close attention to concerns identified by the special rapporteurs and commit to address them at domestic, regional and international levels.”

  Read the Joint Declaration

Read the Declaration in Spanish or French

Background

The four international experts on freedom of expression are:

  • David Kaye, UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression;
  • Edison Lanza, Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression for the Organisation of American States;
  • Harlem Desir, the Representative on Freedom of the Media of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe; and
  • Lawrence Mute, Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information for the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights.

ARTICLE 19 has been coordinating the drafting of these Joint Declarations since 1999.

The previous declarations are available here.