International Conference on Democracy, Political Reforms and Freedom of Expression

Report of the Second Thematic session - Sana'a, 25- 26 June 2006

THEMATIC SESSION II FOSTERING FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION
 
Chair:
H.E. Mohamed Ali Dourani, Minister of Information, Pakistan
Mr. Abdul Rahman Al Rashed, Chair of the Board of Directors, Al Arabia Channel, United Arab Emirates
 
Rapporteur:
H. E. Mohamed Al-Tayeb, Member of the Shura Council, Yemen
The participants in Thematic Session II of the Sana’a Conference on Democracy, Political Reform and Freedom of Expression, meeting on the 25th of June 2006,
Mindful of the evolving human rights environment in the Region, which can only develop further if it is sensitive to local culture, traditions and religions, and is genuinely owned by local governments and civil society;
Reaffirming the fundamental importance of freedom of expression as an individual human right, as a cornerstone of democracy in the Region and as a means of ensuring respect for the rights of all individuals;
Recalling the need for all groups in society to be able to access and input into the media and other means of communication, including marginalised groups, such as women, children and refugees, as well as religious, linguistic and cultural groups;
Considering the key role of the media and other means of communication in ensuring respect for freedom of expression, in promoting the free flow of information and ideas within the context of professional responsibility, in assisting people to make informed decisions and in facilitating and strengthening democratic reform, Welcome the willingness of the Government of Yemen and HRITC to propose a mechanism of consultation between governments and non-state actors, identifying clearly defined timeframes and benchmarks, to pursue the DAD theme of freedom of expression, including legislation and practices on freedom of expression, with a view to bringing them in line with international law and standards;
 
Recommend:
1. That, as a result of the conference, a process be initiated towards the formulation of Arab standards on freedom of expression, consistent with international law and taking into account existing standard-setting documents relevant to the region, including the African Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression.
 
Process for reform
2. Any reform of legislation affecting freedom of expression should be undertaken in genuine consultation with a broad spectrum of interested civil society organisations, including the media, for example through the establishment of government-civil society working groups.
3. Any legislation adopted in the area of freedom of expression should be consistent with relevant international law and standards, as contained inter alia in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Article 32 of the Arab Charter of Human Rights and the Sana’a Declaration on Promoting Independent and Pluralistic Arab Media.
 
Principles and ethical on media regulation and policy
4. Governments should encourage the development of knowledge societies by exploring the development of legislation with a view to legalising private and community broadcasting, where not yet in place.
5. Enhance the capacity of State broadcasters to provide public service programming and reflect a plurality of views
6. The independence of any public authority with regulatory powers over the media should be protected by law and through practical measures.
7. Closure of a publication should not be permitted, except as a penalty of last resort, where less intrusive measures have failed, and only following a fair trial before an impartial tribunal.
8. The development of knowledge societies shall be encouraged by facilitating access to the internet, and avoiding attempts to monitor it.
9. Given the contribution of satellite TV to the realisation of the right to freedom of expression in the Region, promote access to satellite television.
 
Professional standards in journalism
10. Initiatives to develop journalistic codes of ethics should be encouraged and supported, as a step towards the replacing of official regulation by self-regulation.
11. The establishment and development of training institutes for journalists should be encouraged and supported, to ensure the promotion of professional standards in the media.
 
Principles on the work of journalists
12. Support for the work of media freedom and journalists’ rights NGOs should be encouraged.
13. Journalists must be able to exercise their right to freedom of expression without fear of prosecution or intimidation, which would undermine effective journalism and the free flow of information to the public. Effective measures shall be taken to prevent and punish any such persecution or intimidation.
14. In times of conflict, the status of media practitioners as non-combatants shall be respected at all times, and measures taken to ensure their safety.
15. The right of journalists to establish and operate independent syndicates and associations without interference should be guaranteed by law and in practice.
16. Criminal sanctions for offences committed in the course of the practice of journalism should be abolished or replaced by appropriate civil proceedings. Any trial of a journalist should be fair and be held before an impartial court.
 
Content restrictions
17. Restrictions on freedom of expression shall only be permissible foreseen by law and necessary in democratic society.
18. Laws which protect individuals against attacks on their reputation should take due account of the need for democratic debate about the functioning of public officials.
 
Access to information
19. Governments and civil society shall work together to examine the possibilities of adopting and implementing laws guaranteeing the right to access information held by public bodies.
20. No undue restrictions should be imposed on the ability of journalists to gather news, including on access to meetings of official bodies.
 
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