Global media freedom summit slams Gulf states, supports Al Jazeera

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International media freedom conference delegates inside Al Jazeera’s main studio in Doha. The network broadcast messages of support from conference delegates. Image: Joseph M Fernandez/PMC

By Dr Joseph M Fernandez in Doha, Qatar

The international freedom of expression conference in Doha has ended with a strong condemnation of the threats by a group of Gulf states against Qatar and an expression of “total solidarity” with journalists and workers at Al Jazeera and other media targeted by the group.

The conference also issued recommendations on the safety of journalists, media freedoms and on workers rights.

On the safety of journalists the conference expressed concern at the chilling effect of the attacks on journalists and other media workers and on the public’s right to information and freedom of expression.

The Gulf group comprises Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain who recently issued a list of 13 demands including one calling for the closure of the Al Jazeera network and other media outlets including Arabi21, Rassd, Al Araby Al-Jadeed and Middle East Eye.

On media freedoms the conference reaffirmed freedom of expression as a fundamental right enshrined in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and called on nations to observe their duty to ensure that legislation designed to address national security and crime concerns do not override source protection laws other than in narrowly defined exceptional circumstances.

It called on governments to legislate to protect the rights of sources.

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It also called on governments to recognise the media’s right to report freely and without interference from government and to allow citizens to access information on their own governments and institutions “in the cause of transparency and accountability”.

The conference acknowledged the vital role played by trade unions in supporting freedom of expression and defending the right of journalists to hold power to account.

On workers rights the conference called on governments to honour Article 23 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and to comply with the conventions of the International Labour Organisation.

At the end of the conference, the delegates visited the Al Jazeera network headquarters in Doha in a further show of solidarity with the journalists and workers.

Associate Professor Joseph M Fernandez is head of journalism at Curtin University and also the Australian correspondent for the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders. He is attending the “Freedom of Opinion” conference on the invitation of Australia’s Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance. This is a special commissioned report by Asia Pacific Report/Pacific Media Watch.

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