We, the members of the Media Freedom Coalition, held our first ministerial-level meeting on November 16, 2020, to exchange views and coordinate action in the defence of media freedom worldwide.

The ministerial meeting took place as part of the second Global Conference for Media Freedom, co-hosted by Canada and Botswana.

The Media Freedom Coalition is a partnership of countries working together to advocate for and support media freedom, online as well as offline, and the safety of journalists and media workers. The Coalition aims to promote accountability for those who harm journalists and media workers or unduly restrict them from doing their job.

All members have signed the Global Pledge on Media Freedom. As signatories, each member has made the commitment to work together to improve media freedom and the safety of journalists both at home and abroad.

We recalled that attacks on media freedom are also attacks on human rights, including the right to freedom of expression enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and international human rights treaties, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

We underlined that media freedom is essential to the protection of human rights by making the facts about human rights violations and abuses public.

We further affirmed that a free media is the cornerstone of democracy. People need free and independent media to provide them with accurate information, facilitate informed public debate and discussion, hold governments accountable, and serve as a watchdog for the public interest.

We underlined the link between media freedom and economic development and prosperity, including the Agenda 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.

We expressed alarm at the continued decline in media freedom driven in part by the rise of authoritarianism and the use of digital technologies to restrict media freedom. This has resulted in, inter alia, unduly restrictive laws, arbitrary and/or unlawful surveillance, censorship, undue interference in the circulation of information online, and physical violence, exacerbated by financial threats to media independence and sustainability.

We commended the crucial role played by journalists and media workers and paid tribute to those who have lost their lives in the exercise of their profession.

Media Freedom Coalition ministers met in the midst of the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic, which is affecting all parts of the world, imposing a tremendous cost on societies, exacerbating pre-existing vulnerabilities, causing societal changes, and further undermining media freedom.

We commended journalists and other media workers, including those reporting on this health crisis. Their work serves to keep societies informed, to promote proper health measures, and to counter false or misleading information.

We expressed concern at the efforts of some states to use the crisis as an excuse to put in place undue restrictions on a free and independent media. We also expressed concern that some states have undertaken pandemic-related disinformation campaigns to undermine trust in democratic political systems and their pandemic responses.

We urged governments to continue guaranteeing the freedom and independence of the media and the safety of journalists and other media professionals, as well as to refrain from imposing undue restrictions in the fight against COVID-19.

We recognized the worrying growth of threats against journalists, both online and offline, that attempt to intimidate journalists and media organizations into silence.

We condemned unequivocally all attacks and violence against journalists and media workers, such as torture, extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, and arbitrary detention, as well as intimidation and harassment in both conflict and non-conflict situations.

We urged governments to promote a safe and enabling environment for journalists to perform their work without undue interference, including interference by means of legislative measures, unlawful or arbitrary surveillance, enforcement of excessive libel laws, and other measures that prevent journalists from carrying out their work.

We recognized that impunity for attacks against journalists constitutes one of the main challenges to strengthening the protection of journalists.

We called upon governments to do their utmost to prevent violence against journalists and media workers, to ensure accountability through the conduct of investigations into alleged violence against journalists within their jurisdictions, to bring the perpetrators of such crimes to justice, and to ensure that victims have access to appropriate remedies.

We underlined that human rights, including those involving media freedom, must be protected online just as they are protected offline and acknowledged the transformative role of digital technologies in supporting access to and the dissemination of information and ideas.

We reaffirmed the responsibilities of intermediaries, such as social media platforms and search engines, to respect human rights and defend media freedom, given their effects on the exercise of the right to freedom of expression.

We expressed concern regarding measures taken by intermediaries to limit access to or remove content online, including through automated processes, such as algorithms, which have not been made transparent and the use of which may unduly restrict access to information.

We expressed profound concern about and condemned the growing trend of intentional, government-imposed Internet shutdowns, as well as targeted content filtration and removal. Government-imposed network restrictions, whether partial or complete, limit media freedom and the ability of journalists and human rights defenders to report on human rights violations or abuses and hold governments accountable.

We acknowledged the profound impact the use of artificial intelligence may have on media freedom, including the potential for enhanced capacity for large-scale unlawful and/or arbitrary surveillance of journalists and censorship of the media, and the algorithmic curation of news without transparency or accountability.

We expressed concern at laws, punitive legal measures and physical violence that have restricted journalists’ and media organizations’ vital work, often under the guise of addressing disinformation.

We expressed profound concern about the chilling effect on media freedom of the proliferation of overly broad “fake news” laws and the rise in arrests and detentions of journalists on the charge of “fake news.”

We expressed concern about the erosion of public trust, due to the proliferation of misinformation and disinformation, interfering with the public’s need to access information of public interest and value for democratic participation.

We stressed the need for potential solutions to disinformation to be rooted in respect for human rights, freedom of expression, and democracy.

We commended initiatives by civil society to tackle the issue of access to reliable information during infodemics, and we called on intermediaries, including social media platforms, to be part of global efforts to protect media freedom while respecting the key principles of transparency and respecting human rights.

On the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform of Action, we recognized the imperative to undertake a gender-responsive approach to the protection and promotion of media freedom and recalled the important role media plays in shaping the public’s perception of women in society and the media’s role in the advancement of gender equality.

We acknowledged the gender-specific risks faced by women journalists in the exercise of their work, including sexual and gender-based violence, harassment, online and offline attacks, stalking, and intimidation.

We underlined that the multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination, intimidation, and violence against women journalists have a broader negative effect on gender equality and women’s rights and empowerment by silencing the voices of women, including their experiences and concerns.

A healthy information ecosystem depends on a free, independent, plural, accessible, and diverse media. This includes diversity of representation, with different lived experiences within media organizations themselves, acknowledging the importance of intersectionality in promoting inclusion and respect for diversity.

We therefore recognized the importance of representation in the media of groups that have often themselves been the subject of multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination and other human rights violations and abuses, including members of racial, ethnic and religious minorities; persons with disabilities; and lesbian, gay bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) persons.

We acknowledged the additional risks faced by journalists based on their sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.

We recognized the unprecedented economic challenges facing media due to a significant decline in advertisement revenue and the far-reaching effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

We expressed concern that these challenges may significantly affect the health of the global information ecosystem by reducing the diversity of views disseminated to the public and putting at risk the independence of the press, with potentially corrosive effects on democratic governance. We welcomed the launch of a new working group to address the issue of media sustainability by the Forum on Information and Democracy.

Ministers discussed a range of policy options and best practices to strengthen media freedom worldwide.

We called on members of the Media Freedom Coalition to consider:

  • providing safe refuge for journalists at risk who have been targeted for their work
  • increasing coordination and investment in media development spending to support media independence, accessibility, and sustainability
  • providing consistent and long-term support for building robust collaborative national efforts addressing the safety of journalists and the issue of impunity
  • engaging in concerted advocacy as a vocal group committed to defending media freedom
  • strengthening measures to foster an enabling legal environment for freedom of expression, including for members of the media
  • seeking greater inclusion of the issue of the safety of journalists in the processes of the relevant UN and regional human rights bodies
  • implementing gender-responsive measures to protecting the safety of journalists that recognize and address the gender-specific risks faced by women and intersecting marginalized groups, including racial, ethnic and religious minorities, persons with disabilities, and persons in vulnerable situations, including LGBTI persons
  • adopting and applying targeted sanctions against known perpetrators of human rights violations and abuses in response to the repression of journalists and restrictions on media freedom
  • condemning all attacks against journalists and countering the increasing stigmatization and denigration of journalists by public officials
  • working with digital intermediaries, such as social media platforms, to promote preventative measures against the misuse of their products in ways that unduly restrict media freedom
  • exploring best practices to tackle the rise of infodemics and reflecting upon the proposals made by the group of experts from the Forum on Information and Democracy

We underscored the important role played by international and regional organizations in the protection and promotion of media freedom, including the UN, UNESCO, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, the Organization of American States, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, and the Council of Europe.

We welcomed Belize and Botswana as the newest members of the Media Freedom Coalition, expanding the ranks of those countries supporting the objectives of media freedom.

We welcomed the ongoing work of the independent High Level Panel of Legal Experts on Media Freedom to provide advice to governments to prevent and reverse repression of media freedom.

We noted with appreciation the recommendations contained in the initial reports of the High Level Legal Panel on the use of targeted sanctions to protect journalists and on consular assistance.

We look forward to the publication of subsequent reports for our consideration ahead of the next ministerial-level meeting of the Media Freedom Coalition.

We commended the work of the civil society Advisory Network of the Media Freedom Coalition in providing expert counsel and in identifying cases of concern to be addressed through diplomatic intervention.

We committed to strengthen the working methods of the Coalition to be more responsive to cases of concern identified by the Advisory Network and other members of the Coalition.

We welcomed the progress made by UNESCO in supporting initiatives through the Global Media Defence Fund, including for grassroots organizations around the world.

We welcomed the contributions of new donors to this fund, which will expand the reach and sustainability of the fund.

We look forward to the next ministerial meeting of the Media Freedom Coalition, in Estonia in 2021, to renew commitments and to discuss emerging threats and opportunities.

We look forward to the World Press Freedom Conference, on December 9 and 10, 2020, in The Hague, organized by the Netherlands and UNESCO.

Afghanistan, Argentina, Austria, Botswana, Bulgaria, Canada, Costa Rica, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Honduras, Iceland, Japan, Kosovo, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Maldives, Montenegro, the Netherlands, North Macedonia, Serbia, Seychelles, Slovakia, Sudan, Switzerland, Ukraine, the United Kingdom, Uruguay, the United States

Ottawa

November 16, 2020

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