Opening of course on Human Rights and Safety for Al Jazeera Journalists

A warm welcome to all of you – participants, directors and other guests.

  • This is the third Norwegian course in human rights for Al Jazeera journalists. We are proud to be able to continue our cooperation with this media network - which for more than a decade has played a prominent role in the Arab world and elsewhere.
  • Our cooperation started after Sami Al Haj contacted us more than two years ago. We are happy to see that human rights work within the network is expanding, also in new areas, like Al Jazeera Balkan, Turk and Swahili.

Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide together with Sami Al Haj, leader for Al Jazeera's Department for human rights in Doha, Qatar. (Photo: UiO)

  • We are living in difficult times. Last night on TV, a fascist in Russia applauded the killer Anders Behring Breivik because of his fight against multiculturalism. We live in a Europe facing serious economic problems and setbacks. People march in protests.
  • In recent weeks we have also seen massive protests all over the world following a film about Muslims made in the US. In France, cartoons of the Prophet were printed in a magazine. Massive demonstrations were the result. Several people have lost their lives, offices and embassies have been closed, and the dialogue seems to have broken down, again. The caricature controversy from 2005 continues – as a global phenomenon.
  • I attended the UN General Assembly when it opened two weeks ago. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called the film “a disgraceful act of great insensitivity” that “has led to unjustifiable violence”. While endorsing freedom of speech as a fundamental right, he said that it should not be used as a licence to incite to or commit violence. “Too many people are tolerant of intolerance,” as Ban Ki-moon said.

  • As Norwegian Foreign Minister, I will take this opportunity to underline very clearly that we will not compromise on freedom of expression, but also call for respectful application of common sense.
  • As Al Jazeera journalists, you are used to criticism – you have been thrown out of many countries, your offices have been bombed and your colleagues killed. Some even believe you were behind the upheavals in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya – and Syria, even though it was very difficult for you to work in all those countries. Some even claim you are Islamists and representatives of Al Qaida – an echo of the accusations that circulated after you aired tapes from Osama Bin Laden many years ago. You are indeed used to being a target.
  • The resurfacing of the caricature debate in recent weeks has made it even more important for me to welcome you here today. You have come to discuss with us and learn more about human rights, humanitarian law, transitional justice and the protection of journalists. Our focus is on how these laws are relevant for you, what is important for you to be aware of. In the coming week, you will meet international experts and Norwegian media representatives and have the opportunity to discuss a wide range of questions.
  • How can a TV channel, a media network, a journalist do to promote peace and democracy? How can journalism help to bring about a better world? Can this aim be combined with objective journalism and your regular work? How can you do your regular daily work – and at the same time make our world a better place to live in? How can reporting on human rights become part of your job? There are indeed many questions …
  • ….about ethical journalism. Journalism that is neutral, objective, accurate, responsible, accountable – those are all great ideals. I hope you will take the input you receive here back home. I hope that it will nurture your day-to-day work – make your stories even better – regardless of the platform: from Facebook and Twitter to mainstream websites and TV.
  • Irresponsible reporting by mass media is, unfortunately, a fact. No doubt that the media sometimes play a negative role in exaggerating the facts and drawing unnecessary attention to incidents such as the burning of the Quran or national flags. This makes tensions run higher and reactions more extreme – as we have seen in certain recent demonstrations.
  • You are the experts here. The right of journalists to decide how best to communicate information and ideas to the public must be respected, also when you are reporting on incidents of intolerance and hatred. But – and I believe it is essential – if the media are to fulfil their role of providing society with accurate facts, a return to ethical journalism is required.
  • Voluntary ethical codes and standards that do not permit hate speech are important in this context. So are independent and self-regulatory bodies, like the Press Complaints Commission (PFU) here in Norway. The PFU is absolute and completely independent and plays an important role in Norway.
  • Hate speech is often transnational, which means that domestic legal systems are often unable to respond adequately. At the same time, non-legal measures are important for tackling the root causes of hatred and intolerance. Interfaith and intercultural dialogue can sometimes be the best antidote to hate and intolerance.
  • We have seen a shift in focus from protection against defamation of religion to the protection of individuals against incitement to religious hatred. International human rights laws protect individuals, not religions, belief systems or institutions.
  • The UN special rapporteurs on freedom of opinion and expression, freedom of religion or belief and racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance have repeatedly condemned laws on “defamation of religion” as discriminatory.
  • The UN Human Rights Council has also rejected the concept of defamation of religion in a resolution on discrimination against persons based on religion or belief, which was adopted last year.
  • 2012 will soon be over. In a couple of months we can mark the second anniversary of the beginning of the Tunisian revolution – which was followed by the Egyptian and the Libyan. We are in the midst of major changes after elections have been won by Islamist parties in several countries.
  • Discussions are right now running high about how society should be organised, what shall be the role of religion, minorities, women’s rights, human rights in general and freedom of expression. The issue of democratic transition has returned to the front page.
  • Social and political inclusion is at the very centre of this. Tolerance and inclusiveness are among the most important criteria for a democratic society. Much too often, women and minorities are downgraded to second-class citizens.
  • At the same time a brutal civil war is raging in Syria, threatening the most fundamental human right of all – the right to life.
  • Many of your colleagues have made the ultimate sacrifice – and paid with their lives. A record number of journalists were killed in 2011 and 2012, especially in the Arab region: the Middle East and North Africa. So far this year, around 100 journalists have lost their lives, many of them in Syria.
  • “The price of truth has gone up grievously,” as Harrod Evans of The Times has said. Every week, truth is paid for with the life of a reporter, a cameraman, or a support worker. Most of these we do not hear about, as they are local journalists, and not part of an international network.
  • This summer, the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings and summary executions warned that journalists are being killed at an alarming rate by states and non-state actors alike, while others are intimidated into self-censorship. His report identifies impunity as one of the main reasons for the killings of journalists.
  • Many of you are used to bombs and killings – living and working as you do in one of the most turbulent conflict areas of the world. For many of you, checkpoints, soldiers and weapons are part of daily life.
  • During this week you will learn how to protect yourselves better. You will learn about kidnapping and mines, and about digital security – which could one day save your life and that of your colleagues. Our aim is that no journalists should die while doing their job. A dead journalist has no stories to tell – no media story is worth a human life.
  • Qatar – Al Jazeera’s host country – took this message to the international level this autumn. The recommendations from the international conference to protect journalists in dangerous situations in Doha in January were presented to the UN in September.
  • These recommendations include a request to the UN to develop new binding instruments for states on the obligation to protect journalists, to reform its mechanisms and procedures including the establishment of regional security organisations, to expand the mandates of special rapporteurs and relevant bodies, to further develop monitoring, intrusive inspections and mandatory sanctions, and finally to create a unit for dealing with media-related incidents.
  • At the end of September this year, the Human Rights Council in Geneva adopted a new resolution on the safety of journalists and ending impunity. Norway, of course, supported the resolution.
  • This is a follow up of UN resolution 1738 from 2006, which condemns attacks against journalists in conflict situations. The international community is also striving to implement a new action plan on the safety of journalists and combating impunity through UNESCO.
  • We support this work, and as always we stand behind the UN as a common platform for all the 193 countries of the world.
  • The Norwegian Government gives priority to building democracy and freedom of expression. We support women and men who give voices to minorities and vulnerable individuals and groups.
  • Our Government gives priority to the training and safety of media personnel so that they can do their job, be eyewitnesses and inform the public – also in extreme situations.
  • We will continue to support journalists covering elections and demonstrations in countries in political turmoil. We will help to provide training in human rights and transitional justice, like this training course in Oslo – which is also a meeting place for journalists from the East and the West.
  • We will continue to support dialogues between journalists in countries with a sizeable Muslim population and countries like ours.
  • We support the work being done by the media themselves – media enterprises like Al Jazeera – and we support organisations like the Norwegian Union of Journalists, the International Federation of Journalist, and Article 19.
  • Speaking to the UN General Assembly two weeks ago, US President Barack Obama said, “The strongest weapon against hateful speech is not repression; it is more speech – the voices of tolerance that rally against bigotry and blasphemy, and lift up the values of understanding and mutual respect.”
  • To conclude, I would like to quote my Prime Minister’s words after the bomb attack and massacre on 22 July last year that took 77 lives, mostly young ones. He promised “more democracy, more openness, and more humanity, but never naivety”. In the long run, this is the only viable way of ensuring peaceful co-existence on this planet.
  • I wish you an interesting week, and hope that you will return to work in your media network refreshed and inspired. 
 

Related news

Latest news

UiB and CMR in high-tech collaboration

Students from UiB last month joined an experiment with an ultra-high-speed camera. This was a part of the troubleshooting of the Field Kelvin Probe currently under development.

Hatteland Display at International Workboat Show 2016

Hatteland Display are highlighting its diverse portfolio of maritime displays and panel computers on its booth (#1658) at the International Workboat Show 2016 (IWBS 2016) this week.

Servogear Announces Upcoming Events

Servogear announces a busy end of November, beginning of December. They will be participating at important international exhibitions.

Teamtec and ANDRITZ Cooperation

ANDRITZ and TeamTec have signed a cooperation agreement for worldwide marketing of the SeaSOx exhaust gas cleaning system for the maritime industry. 

Export Credit Norway looking for Norway's Best Exporter

Export Credit Norway  has now opened the nomination process for the 2017 Export Award, searching the Norwegian exporter of the year. 

Global Economic Outlook

7 December, Oslo Chamber of Commerce invites to a session with insightful updates on the Norwegian and international economy.

Rebuilding for Hydrogen

M/Y “Che Guevara”, previously owned by Gaddafi, will be converted to run on hydrogen. Greenstat will lead the project and are seeking partners.

Scana training at Servogear

In week 43-45 Servogear  had the pleasure of having Mr. Sun Xiaojia and Mr. Tzuu Kin Tan from Scana staying in the Servogear hometown of Rubbestadneset.

Quality and Customer Satisfaction

Cost efficiency is important. But we can’t rely on cost-cutting alone. At Beerenberg we have asked ourselves the following question: What does it take for the market to continue to choose providers such as Beerenberg in th...