An innovative handbook published in 2015 aims to become the ultimate tool for journalists and bloggers worldwide seeking guidance on the international legal framework protecting their rights to freedom of expression.
Produced by the Thomson Reuters Foundation, Reporters Without Borders, and Paul Hastings, the Defence Handbook for Journalists and Bloggers is unique in its kind as it focuses specifically on the application of international legal principles to the work of journalists. It also includes previous decisions and recommendations made by international and regional bodies and courts in relation to various aspects of freedom of speech.
Because journalists operate within an international legal framework, their rights to freedom of expression are protected but also restricted in specific circumstances. The Handbook looks at how freedom of speech is balanced with other rights and issues, such as the right to privacy, the protection of public morality, and the national security of states. It compiles rules and principles professionals can easily consult and apply, and provides critical practical guidance on important issues affecting their work: from the extent to which they can criticise public figures; to the circumstances in which state secrets can be released; to the different rules and principles regulating blasphemy laws.
“Journalists around the world are more and more under threat and often become targets,” said Monique Villa, CEO of the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “Terrorist groups, but also powerful lobbies and a number of governments are increasingly trying to censor the media, preventing opinion sharing and the release of vital information to the public. Now more than ever, journalists need to be brave, avoid self-censorship, and be aware that they can seek refuge in international law. This guide is a very powerful weapon.”
“Freedom of expression can never be taken for granted. It must, at all times and in all countries, be advocated, promoted, and defended. The world needs independent journalists, who engage in the pursuit of the truth, who respect standards of ethics, and whose mission is to give citizens of this world tools to understand what surrounds them. This Handbook will be extremely useful to all reporters, whether professional or not, wherever they work, whatever the circumstances, and whether they face prosecution or just want to know their rights,” said Christophe Deloire, Secretary-General of Reporters Without Borders.
The Defence Handbook for Journalists and Bloggers is also intended for lawyers who defend journalists but may not have easy access to international legal resources. Human rights activists, civil society organizations and NGOs should also find it a useful working tool and reference on international standards of freedom of expression.
“By the very essence of our beliefs and commitments, lawyers identify naturally with journalistic principles relating to freedom of expression. This explains perhaps why so many of our lawyers from offices around the world wanted to participate in this pro bono project”, said Pierre Kirch, a litigation partner in the Paul Hastings Paris and Brussels offices, who led the team of lawyers which researched and drafted the handbook.
The Handbook is the result of a unique global partnership between TrustLaw, the Thomson Reuters Foundation’s global pro bono programme; Reporters without Borders; and over 70 lawyers at Paul Hastings, who provided close to 3,000 hours of invaluable pro bono expertise.
Formally launched at an event on freedom of speech held in London on June 29, 2015, the Handbook is intended as a participatory project for all journalists. Following the handbook launch, reporters, NGOs and lawyers were invited to add their input and insights to the existing body of research. This online process will ensure the Handbook is constantly updated and relevant.
Source: Reporters Without Borders