Joint declaration by VOA/BBCWS/DW/RFI/RNW
September 29th, 2009 - 13:50 UTC
by Andy Sennitt.

20 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War, freedom of speech is still far from being a reality in many countries of the world and journalists have to face ever more sophisticated restrictions preventing them from reporting freely. While, for some of us, multimedia usage has become an almost indispensable part of everyday life, we should not forget that access to free information is still limited to just one third of the world`s population. The global economic downturn has also worsened the situation for many media outlets, especially smaller independent broadcasters.

In light of this, the five largest international broadcasters - Voice of America (VOA), BBC World Service (BBCWS), Deutsche Welle (DW), Radio France International (RFI) and Radio Netherlands Worldwide (RNW) - call on governments worldwide to end restrictions on the media. At their annual meeting, held this year in Berlin, the directors general of the group call on heads of state to implement Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which states, “everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” The international broadcasters point out that countries’ democratic credentials can be measured to the extent by which they permit freedom of information, and that this, in turn, is essential for a dialogue of cultures and free exchange of ideas to take place.

During the past year, restrictions on media, and in particular on international broadcasters, have peaked during national election campaigns. Tactics have included deliberate interference with transmissions, blocking and denial of service on the Internet, and harassment and imprisonment of journalists, notably in Afghanistan, Burma, and Iran.

Nevertheless, many courageous people in societies around the world are fighting for their right to express themselves and to be heard. Erik Bettermann, current chair of the group of international broadcasters, underlines this fact by saying: “We are impressed by the ingenuity and energy shown by audiences worldwide in using new digital media to facilitate crossborder communication. Their eyewitness accounts of events (many of which their own governments would prefer to go unreported), often accompanied by audio and visual material, have marked the beginning of a new era in communications, one from which we, as international broadcasters, can also benefit, supplementing our own coverage with authentic accounts supplied by citizens in the world’s conflict zones keen to see the story told.”

Some countries have extended restrictive regulations beyond broadcasting to the Internet and emerging new media, further limiting access to information. Authoritarian nations without the technical wherewithal to block or eliminate new media dissemination are resorting to traditional methods of repression and intimidation – expensive lawsuits, long prison terms, confiscation of property – to restrict the flow of news, both local and international.

Prior to the Berlin meeting, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) issued a press release expressing concern about reports “that Internet Service Providers in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong have installed a new filtering software called Landun (Blue Shield or Blue Dam in English) that is more powerful than its problematic predecessor Green Dam.” As a result, says RSF, “access to independent news websites is liable to become more difficult and more risky.”

Today, journalism must still be regarded as one of the world’s riskiest livelihoods. “Over the past year, hundreds of journalists worldwide – including some from our organizations - have been harassed, arrested, exiled, kidnapped or killed,” the group pointed out. “This only strengthens our resolve to jointly increase our efforts to set up a global civil society, where the free flow of information and the dialogue of cultures can take place unimpeded”, Erik Bettermann concluded