Ahead of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in London next week, several bodies on Wednesday raised the issue of journalists being killed and the threat to the media's rights.
Six Commonwealth organisations unveiled proposals for a 12-point code of conduct aimed at reducing the heavy toll of journalists' killings and other threats to the media's right to report.
"Media freedom is in peril," CJA President Mahendra Ved said. "The Commonwealth should now demonstrate the will to defend it through actions, not just words; I believe these guidelines can help to make the commitments real."
"Governments are always keen to shape the political message. Media freedom is hard won and needs constant vigilance and active defence," Sue Onslow, Deputy Director of ICWS, said.
Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland has said that in 2017 that the number of journalists killed for doing their jobs represented "a serious indictment of our collective efforts to build a safer and more inclusive future".
Among the widely reported cases in 2017 were the fatal shooting of editor and journalist Gauri Lankesh in India in September and the car bombing in October that killed investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia in Malta.
Figures published by Unesco, the UN agency with a mandate to defend freedom of expression, show that 57 journalists were killed for their work in Commonwealth countries between 2013 and 2017.
The Commonwealth Principles on Freedom of Expression and the Role of the Media in Good Governance were made public at the University of London's Senate House, the home of the Institute of Commonwealth Studies (ICWS), the Commonwealth Journalists Association (CJA) said in a statement.
The six signatories are the Commonwealth Journalists Association, Institute of Commonwealth Studies, Commonwealth Lawyers Association, Commonwealth Legal Education Association, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative and Commonwealth Parliamentary Association UK.
They were drawn up by a working group representing journalists, academics, parliamentarians, lawyers, legal educators and human rights advocates across the Commonwealth.
The document reflects international standards and best practice with regard to the relationships between the media and the three branches of government, effective protections for the independence of the media and its role in informing the public, the media's respect for accuracy and fairness, and promoting member states' observance of the principles.
"The CLA has been proud to play a part in drafting these important principles," Desmond Browne, who represented the Commonwealth Lawyers Association on the working group, said.
"The intention is that they should provide a universal code for the Commonwealth which will protect both freedom of expression and the activities of responsible journalists."
Unesco's statistics show that fewer than 10 per cent of all killings of journalists in Commonwealth countries have resulted in those responsible being brought to justice.
Human rights groups say that high rate of impunity is at odds with the Commonwealth's commitments to the rule of law and protecting the media's legitimate right to report in the public interest.
"As a letter-bomb survivor and victim of the most gruesome attack on media freedom in my country, Nigeria, I support the Commonwealth Media Principles," Kayode Soyinka, publisher of Africa Today, said in the statement.
"The time has come for the Commonwealth to prove its relevance as a true champion of democratic values," Soyinka said.
Apart from condemning the high number of targeted killings of journalists in several Commonwealth member states, media and press freedom organisations have called for coordinated actions to combat numerous cases of abduction, violent assault, criminal prosecution and arbitrary closures of media outlets.
The organisations which are jointly putting forward the principles say they want these to be adopted by the Commonwealth as a "manual of good practice" to assist governments, legislatures, judiciaries and the media to contribute in appropriate ways to promoting open, democratic and accountable societies, in accordance with Commonwealth values.
This year's CHOGM is being held in London from April 16 to 20. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be among the leaders attending the summit.
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