On 2 May 2023, the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Representative on Freedom of the Media, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information, and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression launched their 2023 Joint Declaration on Media Freedom and Democracy.
Today, on 3 May, ARTICLE 19 is pleased to host the discussion about the 2023 Joint Declaration with special rapporteurs and stakeholders during celebrations of World Press Freedom Day in New York.
The 2023 Joint Declaration responds to growing threats to democracy and media freedom worldwide. As highlighted in ARTICLE 19’s latest Global Expression Report, the levels of democracy experienced by an average person are back to where they were in 1989, while attacks on journalists, media and human rights defenders are on the increase. Threats to media freedom also come from the private sector, especially from the business models and practices of online platforms that moderate and curate news and content to their users. At the same time, advertising revenue – which used to be an important source of income to media outlets – is increasingly concentrated within a handful of global conglomerates. Smaller outlets and platforms are struggling more than ever.
Quinn McKew, ARTICLE 19’s Executive Director commented:
‘ARTICLE 19 appreciates that in their 2023 Joint Declaration, the special rapporteurs first remind states and other stakeholders that the protection of media freedom is essential for the proper functioning of democratic societies and institutions. As public watchdogs, the media scrutinise those in power and expose corruption, human rights violations, other wrongdoing, and mismanagement, thus holding governments and other powerful actors in society to account.
Of particular importance are minority, local, and community media that help to ensure that all of society’s interests, demands, and needs are visible and known to the public.’
The 2023 Joint Declaration provides a set of recommendations on how states, technology companies, and media outlets should respond to challenges posed to media freedom and democracy. These include in particular:
- Measures that states should undertake to create an enabling environment for media freedom and refrain from violations of media freedom. In particular, they should ensure full independence of all public bodies that exercise powers over the media sector and encourage a diverse and independent private broadcasting sector.
- Measures that states should introduce to ensure pluralism and diversity of the media, including through human rights-centric regulatory frameworks, promoting comprehensive transparency of media ownership and preventing media merges and acquisitions that could adversely affect pluralism of media ownership and diversity of media content.
- Measures that states should adopt to promote a diversified and decentralised environment for online content curation and news recommender systems where no single entity holds massive power over the information flows in society, nor on the diversity of exposure of individual users. ARTICLE 19 is pleased that the Joint Declaration recommends that states oblige very large online platforms to unbundle hosting and content curation services in order to address monopolised market powers over information flows. ARTICLE 19 has been advocating for this pro-competitive remedy in the EU and beyond.
- Measures that states should consider to support economic viability and long-term sustainability of quality journalism, including at the local level and in local languages. These include fair allocation of state subsidies or allocation of public advertising in a clear, transparent and non-discriminatory manner.
- Measures that the digital sector, in particular large online platforms, should adopt to support plurality, diversity, sustainability, and independence of the media, as well as accessibility of public interest information. These include respect and compliance with the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, publishing comprehensive transparency reports about their decision-making processes, and strengthening user agency to make well-informed decisions about the use of platform services.
- Measures the media outlets, media proprietors, editors, and journalists should undertake to maintain legitimacy in the eyes of the public and revive public trust in the media. The special rapporteurs urge the media outlets to develop, set, and maintain effective self-regulatory mechanisms to uphold codes of conduct, adhere to high professional and ethical standards, refrain and clearly distance themselves from disinformation, discrimination, hate speech, and propaganda, and address internal structural discrimination and bias in the media sector.
The 2023 Joint Declaration addresses a number of issues affecting the media and online media ecosystem that are currently under debate globally and regionally, without a clear consensus about them in law and in practice. ARTICLE 19 is looking forward to contributing to this debate and working with the special rapporteurs to address the challenges outlined in the Joint Declaration in the future.
Read the full text of the 2023 Joint Declaration
The four international experts on freedom of expression are:
- Irene Khan, UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression;
- Teresa Ribeiro, the Representative on Freedom of the Media of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe;
- Pedro Vaca Villarreal, the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights; and
- Ourveena Geereesha Topsy-Soono, the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information for the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights.
The four special rapporteurs have adopted Joint Declarations annually since 1999, covering current universal challenges to freedom of expression. The Declarations aim to address these challenges and provide recommendations to the actors involved to counteract the obstacles that hinder the full exercise of the right to freedom of expression.