Training Workshop for Journalists on Human Rights and Public Freedoms

Background to the training

Journalism makes human rights relevant to the population, transforming abstract norms into real life situations for the listener or audience. And where the rule of law is fragile or non-existent we’ve seen how the media, in particular radio, can serve as a catalyst to propagate basic human rights and to put pressure on governments to respect these rights. Journalism can compensate for the shortcomings of the State.

The media/journalism is an essential check on power, and as such it is an essential pillar of human rights protection. Yet the media also depends on human rights in order to operate effectively. By virtue of their profession, journalists are often witnesses to human rights abuses and violations. They have an ethical obligation to report on such abuses and violations, whether it is unlawful detention or ill-treatment of detainees, deportation, illegal executions or massacres. The spotlight of the media is a primary mechanism for mobilizing and soliciting the political will to obtain redress. Since the media/journalists are often the first witness to incidents and report serious human rights abuses and violations, it is frequently their work that provokes legal authorities to investigate. In recent years, press reports have been cited by prosecutors as evidence in their effort to try war crimes suspects from Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia. Apparently with the establishment of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, the importance of human rights reporting will continue to grow.

The right to freedom of expression is enshrined in all major international human rights instruments, starting with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, etc... The exercise of this right, and the activity of journalism, whether by professional or non-professional journalists, however sometimes lead to prosecution, judicial harassment, arbitrary detention, or even worse. Uganda has ratified several of these international human rights conventions and embodied some of these in its constitution. However, the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM) has cited clear deficits in human rights and democracy and proposed corrective measures. Although these have partly been accounted for in the new National Development Plan (NDP) more needs to be done.

In particular, journalists and the media are considered to be denied their constitutional rights. The media play an important role in promoting respect for human rights particularly through objective critical reporting and public exposure of human rights violations in the country. The combination of a restrictive environment, state harassment and a lack of professionalism seriously undermine the ability of media practitioners to effectively play a role as promoters of human rights in Uganda.

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Introduction

The United Nations has recently singled out journalists and media professionals as in need of increased education about human rights, as part of the World Programme for Human Rights Education. In effect, the UN Human Rights Council in its resolution 24/15 (8 October 2013), decided that promoting human rights training for media professionals and journalists should be the target for the third phase of the World Programme for Human Rights Education (2015-2019).

This was based on wide recognition that the media and journalism takes on many roles, which makes the discussion on how to link media with human rights very complex and making targeting on it a priority.  Media/journalists can be victims of HR violations when they expose human rights violation or report on sensitive political issues or reporting/broadcasting where freedom of expression is restrained. The independence of media is not secure and journalists are routinely put under pressure. In some situations, journalists are victims of violence and impunity; in others they suffer forms of judicial intimidation. Journalists are also hampered by limits on their freedom imposed by undue political or corporate influence or by the application of law. This stifling atmosphere not only leads to self-censorship, it can intimidate and silence the sources upon which journalism depends. In this regard journalists may also need protection.

In many cases the media are seen as instruments in heating up conflicts, marginalization and escalating discrimination, using propaganda towards minorities. Allegedly uses language that reproduces stereotypes or violates the rights to privacy of others. In this situations the media becomes a perpetrator of human rights violations. This makes it paramount to train them on human rights sensitive reporting as means to to stop media from violating human rights. Human rights training is capable of transforming the media into Agenda Setters giving them a lot of power to turn a human right issue into a public debate. Therefore, “amplifying” people’s voices, it can make their positions, questions, needs or demands heard.

Increasing the awareness and knowledge of human rights also increases the public’s sense of security. If they know that violations will not be ignored, and that they can rely on their local paper to report accurately and without bias on what is going on, then they will be more confident in their news media sources. By expanding media coverage to include reports of human rights subjects, the public will be better informed about their rights and the rights of others, increasing their confidence and raising overall awareness.

The most important thing we can do is to build the capacity of those closest to the events to report as fairly and accurately as possible. Hence, human rights training is base for media to take a responsible role of protector, promoter and educator in human rights, and also to expose human rights violations while protecting the reporters.