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Latin America Strengthens Multi-Stakeholder Strategies on Safety of Journalists and Freedom of Expression

On the occasion of World Press Freedom Day (WPFD) celebrated every 3 May, UNESCO’s Regional Office in Montevideo launched three new publications and co-organised six events with more than 50 prominent panelists, including representatives from government, international organisations, academia and civil society, to share and discuss actions and strategies in the region around this year’s focus of action and debate: “Shaping a future of rights: Freedom of expression as a driver of all other human rights”. Here you can access the links to the recording of each of the seminars.

Together with the Global Freedom of Expression Programme of Columbia University (New York) and other partner organisations, the UNESCO Regional Office in Montevideo held six events focused on Latin America. Three of them were hybrids, with more than 150 people participating in person in New York and remotely, with more than 1,350 views afterwards. They featured opening remarks by UNESCO’s Regional Advisor on Communication and Information for Latin America and the Caribbean, Rosa M. González. The specialist contextualised each of the events with the work that UNESCO is carrying out in the region to strengthen the exercise of the right to freedom of expression as the driving force behind all other human rights.

Initiatives to protect journalists in Latin America and the Caribbean

The event “Forging a future of rights: Latest initiatives for the protection of journalists in Latin America and the Caribbean” held on 1 May together with the Society of Correspondents in Latin America and the Caribbean (SOCOLAC) provided first-hand knowledge of the main challenges in the field and how various actors and institutions are working to ensure better conditions for journalistic work. The Representative of the Chamber of Deputies of Chile, Deputy Nathalie Castillo, highlighted the consensus and rapid progress of the “Model Law for the protection of journalists and people working in communications” that is being processed in the Chilean Parliament.

Cristina Zahar, Executive Secretary, ABRAJI (Brazilian Association of Investigative Journalism), Brazil, presented actions and recommendations in view of the worrying results of the monitoring carried out by this organisation during the previous government’s term of office, when the number of attacks on journalists in Brazil quadrupled.

In the regional panorama, countries such as Colombia and Paraguay present worrying figures of violence against journalists, and in the discussion, the Colombian journalist Ginna Morelo, as well as the Coordinator of the Roundtable for the Safety of Journalists in Paraguay, José María Costa, presented the strategies to fight against it. The panellists agreed that women journalists are especially exposed to a higher risk of suffering violence, both online and offline, because of their gender, a topic that was also discussed in depth by Alejandra Negrete, Expert on Gender and Freedom of Expression.

Eduardo Bertoni, Representative of the Regional Office for South America of the Inter-American Institute of Human Rights, presented the recent publication produced with UNESCO, “Intervention and Interaction Model Protocol for Security Forces regarding Journalists, Communicators and Media“, the result of several consultation processes with journalists, academics and representatives of civil society, as well as the security forces of at least eight countries in the region.

The closing remarks were made by SOCOLAC President Mauricio Weibel, who stressed the importance of “sharing ideas for action” in the face of multiple and diversified violence against journalists, and raised the urgent need to scale up legal initiatives on the safety of journalists at regional and global level. Ricardo Rivas, Vice President and Executive Director of SOCOLAC, moderated the panel.

New and old challenges to guarantee freedom of expression in Latin America

The event “New and old challenges to guarantee freedom of expression in Latin America” held on 3 May and co-organised with OBSERVACOM featured a keynote speech by the Minister of the General Secretariat of Government of Chile, Camila Vallejo Dowling.

The Minister reaffirmed the commitment of the government of President Gabriel Boric to promote public policies that allow progress in the exercise of the right to information, freedom of expression and the safety of journalists, as well as to “guarantee that the media are free from any type of intervention by the governments in power”. To this end, the Chilean government is working on “three lines of action: 1) Diversity and decentralisation: public, regional and community media; 2) Protection of the rights of journalists and media workers; and 3) Combating disinformation,” the Minister explained.

During the session, two recent publications by UNESCO and OBSERVACOM were presented, which summarise good practices and contribute to the regional debate on this issue (in Spanish):

The event also included Damián Loreti, Lawyer and Doctor in Information Sciences (Argentina), journalist Bia Barbosa, representative of the Coalition for Rights on the Net (Brazil), and Gustavo Gómez, Executive Director of OBSERVACOM.

The exercise of freedom of expression as an enabler for other rights

At the event “Freedom of expression, a precondition for the enjoyment of other human rights in Latin America“, held on 3 May, the President of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR), Judge Ricardo Pérez Manrique, began his speech by acknowledging the work of journalists and communicators, including those “who have fallen for freedom of expression”.

In his presentation, Pérez Manrique quoted an Advisory Opinion of the IACHR Court which, as early as 1985, stated: “A society that is not well informed is not fully free” and highlighted the relevant work of UNESCO in judicial training on the right to freedom of expression:

“I want to highlight the importance of the union between access to justice and freedom of expression, and the UNESCO Judges programme initiated in Latin America since 2006, which today has a universal dimension. Because there is no doubt that it is necessary to strengthen democracy and that one way to do so is with more and better judicial independence and more and better protection for freedom of expression.”

For her part, the Secretary General of Amnesty International and former United Nations Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions, Agnès Callamard, spoke about freedom of expression and social protest in Latin America for the protection and defence of other rights.

The event also included the participation of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Pedro Vaca, and the Colombian investigative journalist Ricardo Calderón; the moderation was in charge of Edison Lanza, former Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

Social Networks, peace and human rights: A regional dialogue on the moderation of content on the platforms.

The fourth event of the WPFD focused in Latin America held by the UNESCO Regional Office in Montevideo together with the UNESCO Quito office with representation for Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador and Venezuela and Columbia University was entitled “Social Networks for Peace in Colombia: Contributing to the regional dialogue on content moderation” and brought together key regional actors on 3 May to discuss the main findings of the research conducted by UNESCO’s Social Media for Peace – SM4P project in Colombia. This project focuses on social media and the self-regulatory and regulatory framework governing the moderation of online content that is illegal and/or causes significant harm to democracy, in accordance with international human rights law and relevant jurisprudence.

During the event, the Foundation for Press Freedom (FLIP) gave a presentation on the report Online content moderation and post conflict peacebuilding: a review to the regulatory framework in ColombiaSebastián Salamanca, FLIP’s online freedom of expression advisor, showed that Colombia’s regulatory framework for disinformation and hate speech is generally in line with international standards. However, there are gaps and concerns in practical life. “While incitement to violence does not usually occur, we do see hostile conversation that has an effect on people’s practical lives and mental health,” said Salamanca.

The Karisma Foundation also gave a preliminary presentation of the findings of its research on the self-regulatory content moderation landscape of platforms. The presentation by Catalina Moreno, Coordinator of Social Inclusion at Karisma Foundation, focused on showing the dynamics that govern content moderation practices in the state, on platforms and in civil society. “The key aspects for future discussions on content moderation in Colombia are the absence of a leading entity on these issues in the state, the apparent lack of interest of platforms in making contextualised applications of the rules beyond their local partner programmes and the need for capacity building in civil society regarding the analysis of moderation practices and content curation” explained Moreno.

The civil society agenda on democracy and freedom of expression: Events in Chile and Uruguay

As a continuation of the exchanges commemorating World Press Freedom Day from a Latin American perspective, on 9 May at the Mercosur Building, headquarters of the UNESCO Regional Office in Montevideo, a meeting was held on “Democracy and freedom of expression in Uruguay. The agenda of civil society”. 15 organisations working with children, gender, sexual diversity, human rights, digital rights, and representatives of academia, student unions, journalists’ unions, public media workers, actors and actresses, film producers, among others, participated actively in the event.

At the end of the day, it was presented the VII Marcelo Jelen National Award for the Written Press, organized every year by Cotidiano Mujer, UNESCO, CAINFO and UN WOMEN, which recognizes professional, quality and ethical journalism as a key element to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals: more democratic societies, with more inclusive development and with protection and promotion of human rights for all.

Meanwhile, in Chile, on 3 May, the Seminar “The protection of journalists, a guarantee to defend freedom of expression” was held, an activity organised by the Observatory of the Right to Communication (OSC) together with the UNESCO Office in Chile and the Faculty of Communication and Image of the University of Chile.

Source : Unesco