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A Free Press Is Indispensable for Good Governance and Transparent Societies Chair of the Geneva Centre for Human Rights

This article is part of a series of stories and op-eds launched by IPS on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day on May 3.

GENEVA, May 3 2018 (IPS) - On the occasion of the 2018 World Press Freedom Day commemorated on 3 May 2018, the Chairman of the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue, Dr. Hanif Hassan Ali Al Qassim, highlighted the importance of promoting freedom of the press to facilitate “good governance and transparent societies.”

Dr. Hanif Hassan Ali Al Qassim

Dr. Al Qassim noted that media, often referred to as the fourth estate, plays a central role in promoting the plurality of opinions and ideas in open and tolerant societies. “A free press acts as a voice for the public and as a watchdog. It provides checks and balances and holds leaders accountable to the public. A free press is indispensable for facilitating good governance and transparent societies,” Dr. Al Qassim said.

The Geneva Centre’s Chairman likewise cautioned against the rise of hate speech and online bigotry targeting religious communities. The “misconceived conflation between terrorism and Islam” – he noted – “has given rise to marginalization, bigotry and discrimination threatening the social harmony of multicultural societies worldwide. It has contributed to exacerbating animosities and artificial divisions between people.

“Media must play a more influential role in addressing prevailing misconceptions and misunderstandings that exist between people. Press freedom should not be used as a vector and catalyst for hate speech, bigotry and fear of the Other. The rise of hate speech and online bigotry – encompassing inflammatory and discriminatory smear campaigns singling out religious and ethnic groups – is a threat to press freedom and tests the boundaries of free speech.

“In the context where social media contributes to the dissemination of fake news without accountability, traditional media have an important role to play to promote awareness of false and inaccurate information. They may enlighten world public opinion by offering alternative narratives on contentious issues contributing to plurality of views and offering a voice to the voiceless,” Dr. Al Qassim asserted.

The Chairman of the Geneva Centre also noted that the lack of protective mechanisms for whistle-blowers challenges the concept of a free and open press. “The practice of silencing whistle-blowers constitutes a threat to press freedom and justice,” Dr. Al Qassim said.

The Geneva Centre’s Chairman added that the return to the founding principles of press freedom – encompassing inter alia accountability, liability and transparency – is key to addressing the challenges to press freedom. Dr. Al Qassim said respect for press freedom and the safety of journalists are key pre-requisites to promote peace, justice and strong institutions as stipulated in SDG 16 on Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The Geneva Centre’s Chairman said:

“This year’s annual theme ‘Keeping Power in Check: Media, Justice and The Rule of Law’ illustrates the importance of the interplay between access to information, freedom of expression and access to justice. Journalists have the right to work free from the threat of violence so they can carry out their important duties on behalf of the public. They must not be subjected to censorship, restrictive legislation, intimidation and violence.

“Societies that demonstrate respect for press freedom and the safety and freedom of journalists will make a valuable contribution to the fulfilment of the provisions set forth in SDG 16.”

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