The Commission chaired by Christophe Deloire and Shirin Ebadi is today releasing the “International Declaration on Information and Democracy,” which establishes democratic guarantees for the global information and communication space.
Seventy years after the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted in Paris, the “International Declaration on Information and Democracy” is establishing basic principles for the global information and communication space, which its preamble defines as a “common good of humankind.” The management of this space “is the responsibility of humankind in its entirety, through democratic institutions,” the preamble adds. Published today, this six-page document sets out democratic guarantees for the freedom, independence, pluralism and reliability of information at a time when the public space has been globalized, digitalized and destabilized.
This Declaration was adopted unanimously by the members of the Information and Democracy Commission that is chaired by Christophe Deloire, the secretary-general of Reporters Without Borders (RSF), and by Nobel peace laureate Shirin Ebadi. After meeting for the first time in Paris on 11 and 12 September, the commission worked for nearly two months, for the most part communicating by means of videoconferencing and email. The commission’s mission statement, written by its two co-chairs, said the Declaration must “constitute a point of reference that will mobilize all those who are committed to defending a free and pluralistic public space, which is essential for democracy.”
The commission consists of 25 prominent figures of 18 nationalities, including Nobel laureates Amartya Sen, Joseph Stiglitz and Mario Vargas Llosa and the Sakharov Prize laureate Hauwa Ibrahim. It also includes new technology specialists, lawyers, journalists and former heads of international organizations. The other members are (listed alphabetically): Emily Bell, Yochaï Benkler, Teng Biao, Nighat Dad, Can Dündar, Primavera de Filippi, Mireille Delmas-Marty, Abdou Diouf, Francis Fukuyama, Ulrik Haagerup, Ann Marie Lipinski, Adam Michnik, Eli Pariser, Antoine Petit, Navi Pillay, Maria Ressa, Marina Walker, Aidan White and Mihaïl Zygar.
What does this Declaration bring to the body of law and deontology codes already in effect? Recognizing that the global information and communication space is a common good of humankind provides the grounds for establishing democratic guarantees. Enshrining a “right to information,” understood as reliable information, is an innovation that establishes that human beings have a fundamental right to receive information that is freely gathered, processed and disseminated, according to the principles of commitment to truth, plurality of viewpoints and rational methods of establishing facts.
While the concept of “freedom of expression” has been used to justify the lack of accountability for entities, including platforms, that create the technical means, the architectures shaping choices and the norms for the information and communication space, the Declaration points out that freedom of expression is a right of individuals, with limited exceptions. Entities that contribute to the structure of the information and communication space must respect basic principles. Their activities must, for example, respect political, ideological and religious neutrality. They must guarantee pluralism, by favouring serendipity among other means, and they must establish mechanisms for promoting trustworthy information. These entities must be predictable for those over whom they have influence. And they must be resistant to any manipulation and open to inspection.
The Declaration affirms journalism’s social function, a function that justifies special efforts to ensure its financial viability. The role of journalism is to be a “trusted third party” for societies. The task of journalists is to give an account of reality, revealing it in the broadest, deepest and most relevant manner possible, not only portraying events but also explaining complex situations and changes, reflecting both the positive and negative aspects of human activities and allowing the public to distinguish the important from the trivial. The freedom and safety of journalists, the independence of news and information and respect for journalistic ethics are all essential conditions for the practice of journalism, regardless of the status of those who practise it.
How should the Declaration’s principles be put into practice? The Commission calls for the creation of an international group of experts whose mandate and funding should ensure its independence from both companies and governments. It should have the power to investigate practices in the information and communication space and their impact on its means, architectures and norms. “Democratic accountability will require continuous expert participation that adequately balances global representation with rigorous evidence-based assessment of practices and conditions of knowledge production in the global information an communication space,” the Declaration says.
In an appeal published today in the international media, the Information and Democracy Commission’s members say: “We urge leaders of good will on all continents to take action to promote democratic models and an open public debate in which citizens can take decisions on the basis of facts. The global information and communication space, which is a common good of humankind, must be protected in order to facilitate the exercise of freedom of expression and opinion while respecting the principles of pluralism, freedom, dignity and tolerance, and the ideal of reason and knowledge. To this end, we ask for strong commitment to be expressed as early as 11 November, during the Peace Forum, when dozens of political leaders will gather in Paris.”
About Reporters Without Borders
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is an international non-governmental, non-profit organization with a recognized public interest function that has consultative status with the United Nations, UNESCO, the Council of Europe, the International Organization of the Francophonie and the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights. Headquartered in Paris, it has bureaux, sections or representatives in 17 cities (Berlin, Brussels, Geneva, Helsinki, Istanbul, Karachi, Kiev, London, Madrid, Mexico City, Rio de Janeiro, San Francisco, Stockholm, Taipei, Tunis, Vienna and Washington), correspondents in 130 countries and 15 local partner organizations.
 The “International Declaration on Information and Democracy” was written in English. Two official translations, in French and Spanish, are currently available. Other official translations will be provided later.
As one of the authors of the declaration the EJN’s President and Founder, Aidan White, is available for interviews. Contact him at [email protected]
Aidan White is the Ethical Journalism Network president, an honorary position created by the charity’s board after he stepped down as director in 2018. He founded the EJN in 2012 after serving as the general secretary of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) for 25 years, during which time he helped create the world’s largest organisation of journalists with members in 126 countries.
Before joining the IFJ, White worked as a journalist with newspapers in the United Kingdom, including the Birmingham Evening Mail, the Financial Times and The Guardian.
White has written extensively on human rights, ethics and journalism issues and played a leading role in establishing International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX), a global network of free expression campaigners, in 1993, and the International News Safety Institute (INSI), the global campaign for news safety, in 2003.
ABOUT THE ETHICAL JOURNALISM NETWORK
The Ethical Journalism Network aims to strengthen the craft of journalism and to promote for the public benefit high ethical standards in media through education, training and publication of useful research.
List of Members of the Commission
- Emily Bell: academic and journalist, professor of Professional Practice at the Columbia University School of Journalism and director of the Tow Centre for Digital Journalism (UK).
- Yochai Benkler: author, professor at Harvard Law School and faculty co-director of the Berkman-Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University (Israel, USA).
- Teng Biao: academic lawyer and human rights activist, visiting scholar at the U.S.-Asia Law Institute, New York University (China).
- Nighat Dad: lawyer, Internet activist, and founder and executive director of the Digital Rights Foundation (Pakistan).
- Primavera De Filippi: faculty associate at the Berkman-Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University and permanent researcher at the CERSA (Italy).
- Mireille Delmas-Marty: emeritus professor at Collège de France and member of the Institut de France (France).
- Christophe Deloire: secretary-general of Reporters Without Borders (France) (joint president).
- Abdou Diouf: former President of the Republic of Senegal and former secretary-general of the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie (OIF) (Senegal).
- Can Dündar: journalist, columnist and documentary filmmaker; and former editor-in chief of the centre-left independent newspaper Cumhuriyet (Turkey).
- Shirin Ebadi: lawyer, former judge, human rights activist, founder of Defenders of Human Rights Centre and 2003 Nobel peace laureate (Iran) (joint president).
- Francis Fukuyama: political scientist and political economist, professor at Stanford University (United States).
- Ulrik Haagerup: journalist and founder and CEO of Constructive Institute (Denmark).
- Hauwa Ibrahim: human rights lawyer and 2005 laureate of the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize (Nigeria).
- Ann Marie Lipinski: journalist, curator of the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University, winner of the Pulitzer Prize (USA).
- Adam Michnik: historian, journalist and essayist, editor-in-chief of Gazeta Wyborcza (Poland).
- Eli Pariser: executive director at Upworthy, co-founder of Avaaz and chairman of MoveOn (USA).
- Antoine Petit: head of the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS), former President and CEO of the French Institute for Research in Computer Science and Automation (INRIA) (France).
- Navi Pillay: jurist, former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and former president of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (South Africa).
- Maria Ressa: journalist and CEO of the Rappler news website (Philippines).
- Amartya Sen: economist, philosopher and 1998 Nobel laureate in Economic Sciences (India).
- Joseph E. Stiglitz: economist, 1998 Nobel laureate in Economic Sciences (United States).
- Mario Vargas Llosa: writer, politician, journalist, essayist, college professor and 2010 Nobel laureate in Literature (Peru).
- Marina Walker: journalist and deputy director of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (USA).
- Aidan White: journalist, director of the Ethical Journalism Network and former general secretary of the International Federation of Journalists (UK).
- Mikhail Zygar: journalist, writer, founding editor-in-chief of the independent news TVchannel Dozhd, 2014 laureate of the International Press Freedom Award, CPJ (Russia).