Seminar on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights in Media Coverage during Crises and Conflict

 

  • Honoured Director of News Dr. Mostefa Souag, dear Al Jazeera reporters, dear international guests and participants from Norway.
  • It is a great pleasure for me to welcome you to this seminar on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights in Media Coverage during Crises and Conflict organised by Al Jazeera, the Norwegian Centre for Human Rights and the Norwegian Institute of Journalism.
  • Last year, we all watched people across the Middle East and North Africa take to the streets in protest, demanding freedom and dignity. In fact, people all over the world are now calling, more strongly than ever, for the right to share their thoughts without fear.
  • Many Norwegians are following the dramatic changes taking place in the Middle East and North Africa by watching Al Jazeera. You have brought the events closer to us and enabled us to better understand and appreciate the hopes and dreams of the people in this region.
  • Al Jazera has become the preferred channel for many people who follow conflicts or rapid political changes, especially in the Middle East and North Africa.
  • The 9–16 January issue of Newsweek magazine this year focused on 31 ways to get smarter. One example was: “Get news from Al Jazeera. Don’t shut yourself out from new ideas”
  • This is the second seminar on human rights to be arranged jointly by Al Jazeera’s Department for Human Rights and Civil Liberties and Norwegian partners. Today’s event is a follow-up to the seminar in Oslo last year, where journalists from Al Jazeera discussed human rights with their Norwegian colleagues.
  • For many years, Norway has devoted considerable resources, both nationally and internationally, to the protection and promotion of human rights and the freedom of expression. 
  • We very much appreciate the close cooperation with Al Jazeera on these issues. 
  • The role of reporters being present in situations where historic and dramatic events are taking place is key. Someone has to be there to tell, to inform, to reveal, to expose and to protect through their reporting.
  • However, the cost of being present at the “hot spot” itself can be high. Every day many reporters risk their lives or freedom while trying to do their job.  I have seen it myself.  I used to work as a journalist, in conflict areas.  I have lost good colleagues and friends doing their job as reporter in Iraq and Afghanistan.
  • It is a sad fact that the number of journalists killed while simply doing their job keeps rising. According to the International Federation of Journalists, 106 journalists and media personnel were killed last year. The deadliest region is this region -the Middle East and the Arab world.
  • Far too often journalists are also targeted by the parties to the conflict. This is why the adoption of Security Council resolution 1738 in 2006 was an important step forward. It condemns intentional attacks on journalists, media professionals and associated personnel in situations of armed conflict and calls on all parties to put an end to such practices.
  • We still have a long way to go before the resolution is respected by all states and impunity for those who do not respect Security Council resolution 1738 has come to an end. Knowledge of the resolution and the responsibilities of states could be one first step on the long road to bringing the perpetrators to justice.  
  • Barry James of UNESCO has said it better than any: “Every journalist killed or neutralized by terror is an observer less of the human condition. Every attack distorts reality by creating a climate of fear and self-censorship.”  
  • Dictators all over the world continue to try to prevent the media from working freely, as Al Jazeera and other international media experienced during the Arab spring. Offices were closed down, and reporters were hunted down and imprisoned.
  • In times of social change, the authorities often cut access to the Internet and try to close down mobile phone networks. In Syria or Iran for example, local journalists now have a very limited possibility of working.
  • The Arab League has worked hard to get Syria to open up to the international media. We very much appreciate the work of the Arab League in this regard.
  • However, ordinary people often use their mobile phones and continue to document what is actually happening – forwarding it to Al Jazeera and other international media.                                                          
  • We all know that it takes more than the fall of a head of state to make a different society and a democracy. As we are now seeing in Tunisia and Egypt, elections are only one step towards democracy.
  • But we also know that free reporting is essential in safeguarding democratic change – in this region and all over the world. 
  • You in Al Jazeera, other news organisations and freedom of expression organisation are therefore absolutely key in order to secure the winds of democratic change. You are doing a terrific job – and you can count on our support in future as well!
  • Thank you
 

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