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Protecting journalists. A lesson by William Horsley

The London-based expert says that the proposals put forward by Ossigeno echo the recent resolutions by the UN and the Council of Europe and illustrates the documents to which they refer to

In order to comply with the duty to protect journalists it is not enough for States to renounce themselves to violate the right of expression and information, the London journalist William Horsley, expert and consultant for UNESCO and the Council of Europe, said in his speech at the international conference “Protecting journalists, knowing inconvenient truths”, which was held in Rome on July 2nd, 2015 following the initiative by Ossigeno per l’Informazione and the Center for Press Freedom in Leipzig (ECPMF) (Read the speech). In order to comply with international law, Horsley said, States must adapt laws and behaviors and must actively help journalists who face intimidation and threats because of their work.

In order to defend the freedom of information and protect journalists from attacks against them by those who want to prevent them from communicating to citizens information of public interest, the speaker added, the authorities of each nation must be committed to actively carry out all activities that today are deemed necessary to ensure the effective enjoyment of this fundamental right. How? In various ways. Among other things, Horsley stressed, by updating existing laws, creating investigating ad hoc bodies, specialized sections of the judiciary, appropriate instruments to protect journalists who are under threat, proper training schools for the police apparatus. All this, Horsley recalled, is explicitly required by recent UN resolutions and by demanding documents from the Council of Europe.

In his speech, published in full by Ossigeno, William Horsley gives an updated overview of the malaise of freedom of information at all latitudes; while he also frames the protection of journalists in international law, which is evolving and now, he pointed out, requires from States also positive obligations to effectively enforce the fundamental social rights.

In explaining the content of the recent United Nations resolutions on the protection of journalists awaiting to be implemented (also in Italy) and the new initiatives by the Council of Europe, William Horsley stressed that these initiatives are not yet decisive, but do finally go in the right direction. These should be encouraged and supported, he said, because they can potentially open up a new, more positive, course of action in dealing with these issues. In the next few months, he said, important decisions will have to be taken.

“On April 30th, 2014 – William Horsley said – the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe has publicly called on Member States to take some urgent measures. With the “Declaration on the protection of journalism and the safety of journalists and other media actors” the Committee proposed to urgently review existing laws in order to create or maintain the necessary protection measures so that journalism is free and independent. The text says: the ministers ‘call upon the Member States to comply with the positive obligations (i.e. those obligations that push a State to engage in the necessary activities to ensure the effective enjoyment of a fundamental right, different and more demanding obligations than the classic negative obligation to refrain from violations of human rights, see here) to protect journalists and other media workers from all forms of attack and to end impunity […] and have invited Member States to review at least once every two years the conformity of its laws with European obligations’”.

“This initiative, which has the potential to fundamentally change the way of addressing the issue – Horsley commented – echoes some legislative reforms and some protection mechanisms proposed by Ossigeno and other civil society organizations.”

With his lecture, William Horsley has made an important contribution to the Rome conference and to the discussion on the protection of journalists started by Ossigeno for some time in Italy and which is now developing at the European level in tandem with the Centre for the freedom of the press in Leipzig (ECPMF). The precise reflections of Horsley help to know, to frame and to interpret fundamental documents of the highest international institutions that, although they are official, they hardly circulate in Italy or in other countries. In Italy the media have not referred to these documents. Nor have there been any initiatives to make them known. Therefore these documents are acquired knowledge only for a few experts in the field and do not affect the political debate. Among other things, the lesson by William Horsley clearly explains that the demands put forward for years by Ossigeno – to adapt the Italian laws and to fill the obvious gaps in the law – is not far-fetched, but is rooted in in-depth analyses and is in full harmony with the recent UN resolutions and with the official documents of the Council of Europe on this matter, that is, with the documents approved by the consent of Italy which commit the governments and parliaments of Rome and of all European capitals.

Sincere thanks are thus owed to William Horsley. Ossigeno hopes to have him again as a guest in Italy to further explore the issue.

Read the speech


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