11th September 2018
By Tom Law

EJN president on RSF’s new global Information and Democracy Commission

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) announced on 11 September 2018 that the president and founder of the Ethical Journalism Network, Aidan White, is a member of a new global Information and Democracy Commission with the aim of drafting an International Declaration on Information and Democracy. Read the full press release below or on RSF website.

RSF to launch groundbreaking global Information and Democracy Commission, 70 years after the UN General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Seventy years after the UN General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Paris, the Paris-based international NGO Reporters Without Borders (RSF) announces the formation of a panel of 25 prominent figures with the aim of drafting an International Declaration on Information and Democracy.

Co-chaired by Nobel peace laureate Shirin Ebadi and RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire, the “Information and Democracy Commission” includes Nobel economics laureates Joseph Stiglitz and Amartya Sen, Peruvian novelist and Nobel literature laureate Mario Vargas Llosa and Nigerian human rights lawyer Hauwa Ibrahim, a recipient of the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize.

This independent panel is being created at a time when “the crisis of trust in democracies and the growing influence of despotic regimes pose a major threat to freedoms, civil harmony and peace,” the co-chairs say in the letter defining its mission. Political control of information in a globalized public space, the influence of private interests, the growing power of corporate actors who escape democratic control and the undermining of quality journalism are the leading causes.

The Declaration’s function will be to state principles, define objectives for decision-makers and propose forms of governance,” the mission statement says. It 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.”

Panel with 25 members from 18 countries

As well as the above-mentioned members and co-chairs, the Commission includes Abdou Diouf, a former president of Senegal and former secretary-general of the International Organization of the Francophonie; Navi Pillay, a South African lawyer and former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights; Francis Fukuyama, a US political scientist, essayist and Stanford University professor; Mireille Delmas Marty, a French jurist and Collège de France honorary professor; and Teng Biao, a Chinese human rights lawyer.

It includes these leading journalists: Can Dündar (Turkey), Maria Ressa (Philippines), Ulrik Haagerup (Denmark), Ann Marie Lipinski and Marina Walker (United States), Aidan White (United Kingdom) and Mikhail Zygar (Russia) and Adam Michnik (Poland), as well as the following technology specialists: Harvard professor Yochai Benkler; Emily Bell, the director of the University of Columbia’s Tow Center; Antoine Petit, the head of France’s National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS); Eli Pariser, the founder of the website Upworthy and co-founder of Avaaz; the Italian researcher Primavera de Filippi; and Nighat Dad, the founder of Pakistan’s Digital Rights Foundation.

Towards an International Pledge on Information and Democracy

This initiative’s ultimate goal is an international commitment by governments, private-sector companies and civil society representatives. To this end, RSF expects a political process to be launched at the initiative of the leaders of several democratic countries on the basis of the Declaration, and that this will lead to an “International Pledge on Information and Democracy.” Letters have already been sent to leaders in all continents of the world, and RSF hopes that they will commit as early as mid-November, when dozens of heads of state and government meet in Paris for the commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War (11 November), for the Paris Peace Forum (11-13 November) and the Internet Governance Forum 12-14 November).

The Commission is meeting for the first time the 11th and 12nd September in Paris and has set itself the goal of completing its work within two months. RSF, which is acting as its general secretariat, initiated a discussion several months ago that is intended to contribute to the Commission’s own debates. International consultations with a wide range of stakeholders have also been launched. Any persons or entities that would like to participate can send their contributions in English or French to [email protected]. The role of rapporteur is being performed by Antoine Garapon, the editor of the magazine Esprit and secretary-general of the Institut des Hautes Études sur la Justice (IHEJ).

RSF initiatives

Registered in France as a public interest entity, RSF is an independent non-profit that has consultative status with the UN, 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, Rio de Janeiro, San Francisco, Stockholm, Taipei, Tunis, Vienna and Washington), correspondents in 130 countries and 15 local partner organizations.

RSF’s vision is for “all human beings to have access to the news and information they need in order to be aware of and understand the challenges posed by the world and the environment.” Its mandate is to promote “journalistic freedom, pluralism and independence” and defend “those who embody these ideals.” Its work is “inspired by article 19 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the leading Declarations and charters about journalistic ethics.”

Although supported by RSF and created at its initiative, the Information and Democracy Commission is independent of RSF and is not bound by its mandate.

RSF launched a Journalism Trust Initiative (JTI) in April with the aim of promoting journalistic methods, editorial independence, media transparency, and respect for journalistic ethics by giving concrete advantages (especially technological and economic ones) to news media that adhere to standards defined collaboratively in a process of self-regulation. Around 100 media organizations – including publishers, media unions, press freedom NGOs and other international organizations ­– are participating in the JTI. Its partners include Agence France Presse, the Global Editors Network and the European Broadcasting Union.

The JTI is focused on news media of all kinds and sizes and is designed to defend journalistic values in the face of changing economic realities. The Information and Democracy Commission has a complementary aim, which is to define the intellectual and legal bases of the public space in the era of the Internet and globalized news and information.

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).

The role of rapporteur will be performed by Antoine Garapon, the secretary-general of the Institut des Hautes Études sur la Justice (IHEJ) and editor of the magazine Esprit. He will be assisted by Emile Boutelier and Constant Méheut.

Tweets from the launch event