A media freedom global pledge that emerged from a London conference is laudable, but doesn’t go far enough, said CWA Canada President Martin O’Hanlon, who attended the July 10-11 gathering.
“If you really want to make things better, you’ve got to hit the offenders in the pocket book,” said O’Hanlon. “Do that and things will improve overnight.”
In advance of the Global Conference for Media Freedom co-hosted by the Canadian and British governments, he said the media union had four recommendations for Ottawa that would “have a tremendous impact.”
Chief among them was to form a coalition of progressive governments to establish an agreement on promoting press freedom, as well as an action plan to pressure countries that continue to hinder free expression. “This should include economic sanctions along with individual sanctions against government leaders and officials that would prevent travel and the transfer of funds. We also support the idea of a rapid response mechanism to deal with threats to journalists.”
CWA Canada also called on governments to:
- Support the United Nations Convention on the Safety of Journalists and Media Professionals as put forward by the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ);
- Create an international court for crimes against journalists;
- Introduce a Press Passport, similar to a Diplomatic Passport, providing guarantees of safety and setting harsh penalties for failure to protect journalists.
The media freedom conference, which brought together 60 ministers, hundreds of journalists, activists and academics, wrapped up Thursday with representatives of various countries signing a pledge to work together to protect press freedom.
It commits those governments to:
- Speak out and take action together, through a Media Freedom Coalition;
- Harness the power of diplomatic networks, through a new Media Freedom Contact Group;
- Reinforce international initiatives to champion media freedom;
- Meet annually to renew those commitments and to address emerging threats and opportunities.
O’Hanlon said that CWA Canada, the IFJ, and many others will be holding those signing the pledge to account.
“We will be watching closely. We will publicly name and shame any governments or leaders that don’t respect freedom.”
“Urgent action is vital because freedom of the press is under serious threat around the globe,” said O’Hanlon. “We’ve long watched governments, from Saudi Arabia to China to Iran, severely restricting what journalists can report. But now we’re seeing the rise of demagogues and ultra-conservative parties in formerly progressive countries like Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Turkey, and the Philippines, who are openly hostile to the media.”
O’Hanlon said it “is vital that progressive, moderate, responsible countries like Canada speak out publicly whenever freedom of the press is under attack, that we pressure other countries diplomatically to do better, and that we punish the worst offenders, through sanctions if necessary.”