Freedom of Opinion and Expression, Media and Digital Space in States Of Emergency - New Challenges and Innovative Practices

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Author: Merima Uštović-Kapetanović

EU – NGO 23rd Human rights forum was held virtually on December, 7 – 8. It provided an essential platform for discussing recommendations on the subject: How the EU can protect civic space worldwide and promote a rights-based recovery? How to create the opportunity to strengthen international multi-stakeholder networks, in particular for human rights defenders? The 2021 forum addressed three thematic pillars:

  1. Economic, social, and labor rights

  2. Fundamental freedoms

  3. Health equity
     

Interactive Session II Fundamental Freedoms: Freedom of Opinion and Expression, Media and Digital Space in States of Emergency - New Challenges and Innovative Practices

This session’s focus was on the initiatives of civil society and journalists in overcoming the aggravated challenges for freedom of expression that emerged due to the COVID-19 pandemic, highlighting the resilience that these actors showed and innovative practices they developed during this time. Three lightning talks on the three sub-topics of digital space, media, and freedom of expression; three panelists had a 10-minute time to focus on innovative practice, presenting new ideas and examples of best practices and ways forward. 

 Moderator was Ruth-Maria Henckes. She is Advocacy and Communications Coordinator in European Partnership for Democracy (EPD). Faith Kisinga Gitonga, from Kenya, was committed to introduce us to how leaders took COVID – 19 Pandemic to set up new rules and to fight with different political enemies in a new way. Their main collaborators were media that they control. And as a result, citizens became a hostage of a system. For Kristina Voko, from BIRN Albania, subject was journalists' labor rights which dropped down during COVID – 19 pandemics. In several countries in the EU neighborhood, leaders took this opportunity to fight against journalists who don't obey the orders. 

As an example, in Albania journalists weren’t allowed to attend or report the parliamentary sessions or to do live reports about the last elections. Journalists were under attack daily, not only from leaders, politicians, and political parties; they were targeted by citizens, too. And as it goes, people are doing what their leader does. So when a leader attacks a journalist or newspaper agency that puts a target on that person or media service. As a result, the supporters of a leader start doing the same thing. 

 

Jodie Ginsberg, from Internews, asked all of us a question: Have we ever shared fake news with somebody on purpose or accidentally? Probably, all of us have, deliberately or guided by misinformation. Fake news is not something that appeared with the pandemic. In this global village in which all of us connected to the internet live, information sharing is surprisingly fast. And finally, as Jodie Ginsberg stated, we are having not just a pandemic but also an infodemic. Following this, the session broke into three breakout rooms. First one was about Digital Space and Online Freedom of Expression, second was about Media and Covid 19. The third one was about Disinformation. 

We Must Support the Resilience

 In the Disinformation breakout room with Jodie Ginsberg and Omar Faruk Osman Secretary-General of the National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ), a discussion was about how fake news and misinformation were not a pandemic occurrence. Much earlier media and the internet became the main toys in manipulation with masses and fighting with opponents. We all should be tools to tackle fake and junk news. A network of independent journalists can help fight against disinformation and fake news. Two main tasks are in front of EU programs - to support the resilience, individual or group one, and disrupt what actors are doing. All of this is possible if we maintain the support to independent media. Back to the plenary room, Lutz Guellner Head of Division, Strategic Communication European External Action Service (EEAS), answered questions from three Breakout rooms. Crucial is how journalists need help to make a constructive dialog, he underlined. Those problems are not only in the EU but also around the globe.

 

Fighting junk news and manipulation by media and the internet is the battle that people need to win in order to succeed. Several countries, including Bosnia and Herzegovina, are hostages of disinformation, media as a source of controlling the masses and manipulation with information. Hope is in all of the measures that are or will be taken to strengthen the independence of media and investigative journalism. Healthy media = healthy political system = satisfied citizenship.