The whole field of media freedom is articulated by various documents that have been drawn up over the years, enshrining the right of freedom of expression in a series of universally acknowledged principles and declarations.
These instruments divide into several categories: international, Commonwealth, and regional.
The single most significant one is the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, which was adopted and proclaimed on December 10, 1948 by the General Assembly of the United Nations.
Article 19 of this declaration:
” Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers”
is considered to be the benchmark from which all other instruments pertaining to media freedom have evolved.
Originally the Universal Declaration was conceived as a statement of objectives to be pursued by Governments, and therefore it is not part of binding international law. Nonetheless, it is still a powerful instrument used to apply moral and diplomatic pressure on states that violate the Declaration’s principles. In 1968, the United Nations International Conference on Human Rights agreed that the Declaration “constitutes an obligation for the members of the international community” to protect and preserve the rights of its citizenry.
In Commonwealth terms, the most significant declarations with regard to media freedom are Harare 1991 and Coolum 2002. The first tackles the issues of human rights without specifically mentioning freedom of expression, the second is notable for actually including the phrase “freedom of expression” in the first principle. Also included is the original Commonwealth Principles of 1971 when the aims and aspirations of the modern Commonwealth were articulated for the first time.
Other notable declarations are included to provide a reference to the development of freedom of expression and media freedom principles throughout the Commonwealth and the world.
Universal Declaration of Human Rights – 1948
Chapultepec – 1994
Winhoek – 1991
Commonwealth Principles – 1971
Harare Declaration – 1991
Coolum Declaration – 2002
Colombo Declaration 1998/2008
This is a fine example of one country’s media coming together to draw up a document that provides a blueprint for media freedom under particularly difficult circumstances.
Kathmandu Declaration 2009
This is Declaration on Media Freedom in South Asia, which came out of the World Press Freedom Day meeting in Kathmandu, Nepal on 3 May 2009.
Listed below are the most significant instruments which have goverened the field of media freedom.