World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers

Q&A on the proposal of a UN Convention for the safety of Media Professionals

World News Publishing Focus

World News Publishing Focus
Your Guide to the Changing Media Landscape

Q&A on the proposal of a UN Convention for the safety of Media Professionals

Image: Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in the hallway leading to the room of the Security Council at the UN Headquarters, New York. 

Five concrete reasons to support this initiative:
1) Rectify a gap in international law for binding norms establishing safeguards for media workers specifically.
2) The Convention not only includes incontrovertible obligations such as protection of journalists against attacks on their life, arbitrary arrest or forced disappearances, but also others so far found only in soft law, like

  • obligation to protect the confidentiality of journalistic sources; 
  • not to misuse national security to hinder the work of journalists through arbitrary detention; 
  • to conduct an effective investigation where crimes against journalists have been committed, capable of bringing to justice not only the executors, but also the moral authors of crimes

3) It includes not only journalists, but all the media professionals who are at risk every day, from the cameramen to the drivers, interpreters etc
4) It allows denunciation of systematic violations by persons other than the direct victims, effectively combating self-censorship.
5) It provides for interim measures and an expedite procedure in case of alleged violations.

To add your organisation's name to support the Convention sign up here

Q: Why is there a need for a specific Convention for the safety of journalists and media professionals? 
A: Media workers require a category-specific solution because their position is distinctive when compared to other individuals exercising free speech, and to other civilians in times of war.
Journalists reporting from conflict zones face greater risks when compared to other civilians. First, they do not flee conflict, they seek it out. Secondly, there is a strategic advantage to be gained from targeting the media for those who wish to prevent the international scrutiny over the conflict. The exercise of freedom of expression by media professionals is distinct: they are involved in the circulation of information and ideas on a regular basis, with a much wider impact on mass audiences. The have greater resources in terms of collecting information, enjoy greater credibility than occasional witnesses sharing images on social media platforms and their outputs are actively sought out by the public. All this provides greater incentive to censor unfavourable speech by targeting professional journalists.
The Convention would rectify a gap in international law: there are no binding norms establishing safeguards for media workers specifically.
The codification of legal standards has already proven an efficient route to securing rights. Even though women, children or disabled persons are protected as human beings under general instruments, specific conventions (on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, on the Rights of the Child, on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, on Migrant Workers) have been adopted, as a reaction to the factual observation that general instruments are insufficient and the international community must address the specific vulnerabilities of these categories. Similarly, journalists are an identifiable vulnerable category due to the fact that they are targeted on account of their profession; a dedicated instrument would enhance their protection and attach particular stigma to violations.
 In the Security Council room: In the Security Council room: Olivier Da Lage (RFI), Carmen Draghici (City Law), Anthony Bellanger (IFJ), Philippe Leruth (IFJ), Elena Perotti (WAN-IFRA)In the Security Council room: In the Security Council room: Olivier Da Lage (RFI), Carmen Draghici (City Law), Anthony Bellanger (IFJ), Philippe Leruth (IFJ), Elena Perotti (WAN-IFRA)
Q: Where does this new text draw its legitimacy from? 
A: The drafting process of the proposed Convention aimed to produce a text enjoying high legitimacy under international law and likely to gain wide acceptance. To that end, it relied on already existing international human rights and humanitarian law instruments. In addition to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Geneva Conventions, the draft took into account the interpretation of international monitoring bodies, such as the UN Human Rights Committee, as well as instruments of soft law like resolutions of UNESCO, UN General Assembly, UN Security Council and the UN Human Rights Council. 
The Preamble to the Draft Convention
, in nearly half of its 16 paras., cites all the instruments on which it is based and to which it remains textually close. The few innovative provisions found in the proposed text  consist of codification of existing obligations, largely based on good practices recommended by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Q: The Convention is aimed at the Safety and Independence of Journalists and Other Media Professionals: who is included in this definition? 
A: Article 2of the text establishes that for the purposes of the Convention "the terms “journalist” and “media professional” apply to persons who are regularly or professionally engaged in the collection, processing and dissemination of information to the public via any means of mass communication, including cameramen and photographers, technical supporting staff, drivers and interpreters, editors, translators, publishers, broadcasters, printers and distributors.”. 
This definition of media professionals is based on international practice (UN Special rapporteur on extra-judicial killings, Inter-American Court of Human Rights). Also the inclusion of support staff, such as cameramen, drivers, interpreters etc, in the definition, is based on international jurisprudence and soft law (judgments of the American and European regional human rights courts, resolutions of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe).
Q: Indicate one provision that you think, if approved, will dramatically impact the safety of media professionals.
A: The draft puts forward a procedure for the denunciation of systematic violations by persons other than the direct victims, in order to address the phenomenon of self-censorship and recognise societal impact. Right now there is no independent course of action for members of the public or other media workers in case of violations of the rights of a journalist, as they are not entitled to lodge an application before an international procedure.
This provision would ensure that finally a human rights instrument reflects the systemic effect of attacks against journalists on society. Impunity for such attacks jeopardises the public’s right to information, diminishes democratic control and has a chilling effect on everyone’s speech: for this reason the public needs to be recognised a right to action.  
Q: How do you propose to ensure the enforcement of the Convention? 
A: The draft proposes a dedicated monitoring body: a body of independent experts rather than State representatives, according to a well-established model (jurists who do not represent national interests and do not take instructions from governments); similar committees were set up under several UN conventions (e.g. UN Human Rights Committee, Committee Against Torture).
The Committee for the Safety of Journalists would have mandatory competence to receive individual complaints, conduct in loco inquiries and issue reasoned decisions. The Committee would also have the important power to request interim measures between the presentation of a complaint and the determination of its merits, to avoid possible irreparable damage to the alleged victim.
The main advantage of a specific body would be that it provides an expedite procedure in case of alleged violations, and focuses the international attention on breaches of journalists’ rights. The Committee’s annual reports to the General Assembly on compliance would act as an important form of leverage, as international law notoriously relies on peer pressure for enforcement.


Elena Perotti's picture

Elena Perotti


2018-10-26 11:20

Author information

The news publishing industry is experiencing transformation at an ever-growing pace, with new policy issues arising as the landscape changes.

We will be examining policy discussions that will define the news publishing environment of the future, the key topics being internet governance, privacy and copyright. Click here to learn more about our work.

WAN-IFRA Media Policy team and experts.

© 2020 WAN-IFRA - World Association of News Publishers

Footer Navigation