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Human Rights Reporting: Rights, Responsibilities, and Challenges

Abstract

This essay critically examines the intersections between news media and human rights in the context of the existing human rights framework. A survey of the fundamental provisions of international human rights law and of the evolving case law of human rights organs relating to media freedom and responsibilities reveals that existing gaps and underspecified obligations render problematic the normative guidance offered by the framework in addressing the pertinent human rights issues. However, this is part of the story. The problems associated with normative guidance are compounded by media practitioners’ contending approaches on the role of the media as “promoters of human rights.” The interplay between these factors is then examined through the prism of the two communities’ converging commitment to “truth-seeking.” This commitment can provide entry points to a more constructive engagement between the news media and the human rights community.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    See Introduction.

  2. 2.

    International Council on Human Rights Policy (ICHRP) Journalism, Media and the Challenge of Human Rights Reporting. Geneva, 2002, p. 20. It is important to note here that terms such as news media, journalism, and reporting “cover,” as one analyst has noted, “an immensely broad and varied terrain, both in style and in substance;” Anne Nelson, “The News Media in the Arena of Human Rights,” in George Andreopoulos, Zehra F. Kabasakal Arat and Peter Juviler (eds.) Non-State Actors in the Human Rights Universe. Bloomfield, CT: Kumarian Press, 2006, p. 232. It is beyond the scope of this article to address these variations.

  3. 3.

    Ibid, 27.

  4. 4.

    Ibid.

  5. 5.

    Ibid.

  6. 6.

    International Council on Human Rights Policy (ICHRP) Taking Duties Seriously. Individual Duties in International

    Human Rights Law. Geneva, 1999, p. 49.

  7. 7.

    Ibid.

  8. 8.

    Due to space limitations, it is not possible to address all rights-related issues.

  9. 9.

    Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR); http://www.ohchr.org/EN/UDHR/Documents/UDHR_Translations/eng.pdf

  10. 10.

    International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR); http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/ProfessionalInterest/ccpr.pdf

  11. 11.

    See also Alfred de Zayas and Aurea Roldan Martin, “Freedom of Opinion and Freedom of Expression: Some Reflections on General Comment No. 34 of the UN Human Rights Committee,” Netherlands International Law Review, vol. 59(3), 2012, p. 428.

  12. 12.

    United Nations General Assembly. Tenth Session. Draft International Covenants on Human Rights. Annotation prepared by the Secretary-General; A/2929, 1 July 1955, p. 144. In fact, the provisional title for article 19 was Freedom of Opinion and Information.

  13. 13.

    United Nations Economic and Social Council. Commission on Human Rights. Summary Record of the Hundred and Sixty Second Meeting. E/CN.4/SR.162, 28 April 1950. See in particular Mrs. Mehta’s (India) comments on this issue, p. 6.

  14. 14.

    International Human Rights Instruments are not consistent on the formulation of these rights. For example, article 10 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (ECPHRFF) refers to freedom of expression “which shall include freedom to hold opinions”; the American Convention on Human Rights (ACHR), on the other hand, refers to freedom of thought and expression as one right, akin to the formulation of the UDHR. The difference though is that the UDHR refers to the freedom of opinion and expression, while freedom of thought is addressed in another article (18) together with conscience and religion. The extent to which these differences matter is beyond the scope of this article. For the text of these treaties, see Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, http://www.echr.coe.int/Documents/Convention_ENG.pdf; and American Convention on Human Rights, https://www.oas.org/dil/treaties_b-32_american_convention_on_human_rights.pdf

  15. 15.

    United Nations. International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. General Comment 34. Article 19: Freedoms of Opinion and Expression. CCPR/C/GC/34, 12 September 2011, 1.

  16. 16.

    Author’s emphasis; the legislative history of article 19 does not shed any light as to any conceptual differences between “responsibilities” and “duties.” Some analysts have argued that the former term should refer to moral responsibility and the latter to legal responsibility (duty). Given the still highly aspirational language of human rights, these terms are often used interchangeably in human rights documents.

  17. 17.

    For example, the provision that refers to restrictions for the protection of national security, public order, or public health or morals can also be found in article 18 (freedom of thought, conscience and religion), article 21 (right of peaceful assembly) and article 22 (freedom of association).

  18. 18.

    United Nations General Assembly, DRAFT INTERNATIONAL COVENANTS ON HUMAN RIGHTS. Annotation

    prepared Ъу the Secretary-General. A/2929, 1 July 1955, 147.

  19. 19.

    Ibid, 147–148.

  20. 20.

    Ibid, 148.

  21. 21.

    Ibid.

  22. 22.

    Ibid.

  23. 23.

    Ibid, 149.

  24. 24.

    General Comment 34, note 15, 3.

  25. 25.

    There is extensive case law on freedom of expression by the Human Rights Committee, as well as by regional human rights courts, especially the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR); for the ECtHR, see Freedom of Expression in Europe. Case-law concerning Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Council of Europe Publishing, Strasbourg, 2007. It is beyond the scope of this article to address the various and contending aspects of this evolving jurisprudence. For a critical perspective, see Jean-Francois Flauss, The European Court of Human Rights and the Freedom of Expression, Indiana Law Journal, 84(3), 2009, 809–849.

  26. 26.

    United Nations. International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Human Rights Committee. Views. Rafael Marques de Morais v. Angola, Communication No. 1128/2002. CCPR/C/83/D/1128/2002, 18 April 2005, 14.

  27. 27.

    United Nations. International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Human Rights Committee. Views. Rakhim Mavlonov and Mr. Shansiy Sa’Di v. Uzbekistan. Communication No. 1334/2004. CCPR/C/95/D/1334/2004, 19 March 2009, 10.

  28. 28.

    Taking Duties Seriously, note 6, 42.

  29. 29.

    The preamble of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) contains identical language. For the text of the ICESCR, see http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/ProfessionalInterest/cescr.pdf

  30. 30.

    In fact, article 10 of the ECHRFF which deals with freedom of expression contains language on duties and responsibilities that is very similar to that of article 19 of the ICCPR.

  31. 31.

    Articles XXIX–XXXVIII. For the text of the American Declaration, see http://www.cidh.oas.org/Basicos/English/Basic2.american Declaration.htm

  32. 32.

    Article 32. See note 14.

  33. 33.

    Articles 27 and 29. For the text of the African Charter, see https://au.int/en/treaties/african-charter-human-and-peoples-rights

  34. 34.

    Article 18(2); United Nations General Assembly. Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, A/RES/53/144, 8 March 1999.

  35. 35.

    The former relates to the notion of correlative (perfect) duties, while the latter to non-correlative (imperfect duties). For further discussion, see Pavlos Eleftheriadis, Legal Rights, Oxford University Press, 2008.

  36. 36.

    Many studies have addressed the issue of media concentration and its adverse effects on freedom of expression. According to one study, the cable industry in the USA underwent, within a period of 15 to 20 years, one of the most striking consolidations in the industry: “it has gone from a “ma and pa” industry of the 1970s to an enterprise in which six giant firms control over 80 % of the market….By 2003, the standing joke was that it was easier for an independent cable entrepreneur to “touch the moon” than to get a new cable TV channel carried by the giant cable TV systems operators;” Robert W. McChesney, The Problem of the Media: U.S. Communication Politics in the Twenty-First Century. Monthly Review Press, 2004, 179.

  37. 37.

    Author’s emphasis; International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, General Comment No. 10: Article 19 (Freedom of opinion), Nineteenth session (1983).

  38. 38.

    General Comment 34, note 15, 10.

  39. 39.

    United Nations. International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Consideration of Reports Submitted by States Parties Under Article 40 of the Covenant. Comments of the Human Rights Committee. Italy. CCPR/C/79/Add. 37, 3 August 1994, 3.

  40. 40.

    Ibid, 4. See also General Comment 10, note 37.

  41. 41.

    United Nations. International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Consideration of Reports Submitted by States Parties Under Article 40 of the Covenant. Concluding Observations of the Human Rights Committee. Russian Federation. CCPR/CO/79/RUS, 1 December 2003, 5.

  42. 42.

    Ibid, 5. See also General Comment 10, note 37.

  43. 43.

    Needless to say, addressing concentration of media ownership does not exhaust the complex issue of pluralism. Diversity in ownership is a necessary but not sufficient condition to ensure pluralism in of media content. In a joint declaration issued by the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the rights to freedom of opinion and expression, the Representative on Freedom of the Media of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression of the Organization of American States and the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, they identified commercial pressures and, in particular, the “growing concentration of ownership of the media, with serious potential implications for content diversity,” as one of the 10 key challenges to freedom of expression. United Nations General Assembly. Human Rights Council. Tenth anniversary joint declaration: Ten key challenges to freedom of expression in the next decade, A/HRC/14/23/Add.2, 25 March 2010, 6.

  44. 44.

    Author’s emphasis.

  45. 45.

    It is beyond the scope of this essay to examine the puzzles posed and questions raised by the term non-state actor or entity. These include the question of the unifying characteristic of a whole range of entities coming under this label, as well as the nature of their interactions with and support from the state that may blur the conceptual boundaries between state and non-state. For more on this, see Non-State Actors in the Human Rights Universe, note 2.

  46. 46.

    As provided for in article 10(1) of the European Convention. For more on this, see Council of Europe. Media Division. Directorate General of Human Rights. Media Diversity in Europe. Report prepared by the AP-MD. Strasbourg, December 2002, 6.

  47. 47.

    Article 10(2) of the European Convention is the equivalent of Article 19(3) of the ICCPR.

  48. 48.

    Council of Europe, European Court of Human Rights. CASE OF INFORMATIONSVEREIN LENTIA AND OTHERS v. AUSTRIA (Application no. 13914/88; 15041/89; 15717/89; 15779/89; 17207/90). JUDGMENT, 24 November 1993, para. 38. The case involved the Austrian Government’s broadcasting monopoly.

  49. 49.

    International Council on Human Rights Policy, Summary. Journalism, Media and the Challenge of Human Rights Reporting. Geneva, 2002, n.p.; and Journalism, Media and the Challenge of Human Rights Reporting, note 2.

  50. 50.

    Ibid.

  51. 51.

    Journalism, Media and the Challenge of Human Rights Reporting, note 2, 113.

  52. 52.

    See Foreword, 5.

  53. 53.

    SPJ Ethics Committee Position Papers. Political Involvement; http://www.spj.org/ethics-papers-politics.asp

  54. 54.

    Journalism, Media and the Challenge of Human Rights Reporting, note 2, 115.

  55. 55.

    The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ). Mission Statement; http://www.ifj.org/about-ifj/ IFJ currently represents around 600,000 members in 140 countries.

  56. 56.

    Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics; http://www.spj.org/pdf/spj-code-of-ethics.pdf. The other three are minimize harm, act independently and be accountable and transparent.

  57. 57.

    Al Jazeera Code of Ethics, http://www.aljazeera.com/aboutus/2006/11/2008525185733692771.html

  58. 58.

    International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) Declaration of Principles on the Conduct of Journalists, http://www.ifj.org/about-ifj/ifj-code-of-principles/

  59. 59.

    The literature on truth-seeking has grown exponentially since the end of the cold war; see, for example, Yasmin Naqvi, “The right to the truth in international Law: fact or fiction?,” International Review of the Red Cross, 88 (862), 2006, 245–273; and Alice M. Panepinto, “The right to the truth in international law: The significance of Strasbourg’s contributions,” Legal Studies, Legal Studies 37(4), 2017, 739–764.

  60. 60.

    Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, and Relating to the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts (Protocol I), 8 June 1977; https://ihl-databases.icrc.org/applic/ihl/ihl.nsf/INTRO/470. Article 33 of API refers to missing persons and article 34 to the deceased. See Naqvi and Panepinto.

  61. 61.

    Jean-Marie Henckaerts and Louise Doswald Beck, Customary International Humanitarian Law. Volume I: Rules. Cambridge University Press, 2005, 423. It appears that there was considerable discussion among the delegates about the nature and content of such right. According to the ICRC Commentary to the Geneva Conventions, “The reference to the right of families to know the fate of their relatives gave rise to considerable discussion. It should be stressed once again that the use of this term was adopted after careful reflection…” Yves SANDOZ-Christophe SWINARSKI-Bruno ZIMMERMANN (eds.), Commentary on the Additional Protocols of 8 June 1977 to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949. International Committee of the Red Cross. Martinus Nijhoff Publishers. Geneva 1987, 345, para 1211.

  62. 62.

    United Nations. International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Mariya Staselovich v. Belarus, Communication No. 887/1999, U.N. Doc. CCPR/C/77/D/887/1999 (2003), para 9.2; http://hrlibrary.umn.edu/undocs/887-1999.html

  63. 63.

    Council of Europe. European Court of Human Rights, CASE OF ASLAKHANOVA AND OTHERS v. RUSSIA

    (Applications nos. 2944/06 and 8300/07, 50184/07, 332/08, 42509/10). JUDGMENT. STRASBOURG, 18 December 2012. The Court referred to Resolution 1463 (2005) of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) on Enforced Disappearances; para 60.

  64. 64.

    Ibid, para 261; Article 3 refers to the prohibition of torture/inhuman or degrading treatment/punishment. More specifically, the ECtHR found “that the applicants, who are close relatives of the disappeared men, must be considered victims of a violation of Article 3 of the Convention, on account of the distress and anguish which they suffered, and continue to suffer, as a result of their inability to ascertain the fate of their family members and of the manner in which their complaints have been dealt with;” para 133.

  65. 65.

    Author’s emphasis; Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. Organization of American States. REPORT N° 21/00 CASE 12.059 CARMEN AGUIAR DE LAPACÓ V. ARGENTINA, February 29, 2000; http://www.cidh.org/annualrep/99eng/Friendly/Argentina12.059.htm

  66. 66.

    Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. Organization of American States. REPORT N° 1/99CASE 10.480 LUCIO PARADA CEA, HÉCTOR JOAQUÍN MIRANDA MARROQUÍN, FAUSTO GARCÍA FUNES, ANDRÉS HERNÁNDEZ CARPIO, JOSE CATALINO MELÉNDEZ AND CARLOS ANTONIO MARTÍNEZ V. EL SALVADORJanuary 27, 1999; http://cidh.org/annualrep/98eng/Merits/ElSalvador%2010480.htm, paras. 148 and 153.

  67. 67.

    In the Lucio Parada Cea et al. case, the IACHR noted that El Salvador’s obligations to the families of the victims and to the society arose from the provisions of articles 1(1) (obligation to respect rights), 8 (right to a fair trial), 13 (freedom of thought and expression) and 25 (right to judicial protection) of the American Convention; ibid., para 148.

  68. 68.

    In its discussion of Rule 117 mentioned earlier, the ICRC study on Customary International Humanitarian Law contains a single reference to a non-state actor, the SPLM/A. This reference hardly provides any evidence to establish non-state actor responsibility; Customary International Humanitarian Law, note 61, 424.

  69. 69.

    Juan Mendez, who has been one of the biggest advocates of the right to truth, has concluded that “in current international law and practice it is unclear if the right to truth is an independent human right or part of broader rights such as the right to reparations, the right to remedies, or the right not to be subjected to inhuman, cruel or degrading treatment”; Juan E Méndez and Francisco J Bariffi, “Truth, Right to, International Protection,” in Max Planck Encyclopedia of Public International Law, http://www.corteidh.or.cr/tablas/r17382.pdf; para 28. After a rather extensive survey of the relevant case law, Naqvi notes that “the right to the truth stands somewhere on the threshold of a legal norm and a narrative device;” note 59, 273.

  70. 70.

    See the piece by Nacos and Bloch-Elkon in this issue.

  71. 71.

    Author’s emphasis; the attempts by Bush administration officials and their supporters to justify the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” have generated a discussion on whether this development may have contributed to some backsliding on the absolute prohibition of torture. The key issue here is not whether torture is practiced, but whether states can now openly admit to engaging in such techniques which constitute torture.

  72. 72.

    See the piece by Janet Reilly in this issue.

  73. 73.

    International Strategy for Disaster Reduction, Disaster Risk Reduction in the United Nations. Roles, mandates and areas of work of key United Nations entities, 2011; http://www.preventionweb.net/files/18933_directory.pdf#page=44, 37.

  74. 74.

    Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015–2030, United Nations; http://www.preventionweb.net/files/43291_sendaiframeworkfordrren.pdf. The Sendai Framework is the successor (soft law) instrument to the HFA.

  75. 75.

    Council of Europe. European Court of Human Rights. CASE OF BUDAYEVA AND OTHERS v. RUSSIA

    (Applications nos. 15339/02, 21166/02, 20058/02, 11673/02 and 15343/02) JUDGMENT. STRASBOURG. 20 March 2008, para 158; https://www.legal-tools.org/doc/57c56e/pdf/

  76. 76.

    Ibid, para 159.

  77. 77.

    See Shawna Brandle’s contribution in this issue that compares US and UK news outlets.

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Andreopoulos, G. Human Rights Reporting: Rights, Responsibilities, and Challenges. Hum Rights Rev 19, 147–166 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12142-018-0499-1

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Keywords

  • Human rights
  • Media
  • International human rights law
  • Freedom of opinion and expression
  • Right to the truth