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Towards an Ethical Environment: A Checklist. Law and Policy

There can be no consistent body of ethical or quality journalism unless the principles of media freedom are protected by the state. Constitutional rights are more than window dressing for democracy. They must be upheld in practice.

Campaigning for these rights – such as that carried out by the Breaking the Chains programme of journalists’ unions across the Middle East and North Africa – requires careful monitoring, at national and regional level, of bad laws and how they are used. It requires targeted actions to have them repealed and replaced with legislation that provides protection for journalists.

Many of the questions below suggest avenues to explore these rights and freedoms. Answering some of them will require discussion and debate, for instance on the matter of blasphemy and insult laws, their application and their relevance. Others require immediate and urgent action, such as the need to end the impunity that exists over violence against journalists and to protect civil liberties from anti-terrorism and security laws and policy.

The questions also need to be addressed at different levels. The degree to which there is open government may be a forum discussion for a group of journalists or the public. Many should be addressed by journalists collectively through their unions and by press freedom groups and others. In addressing these questions, journalists will begin to build alliances to press for change and improvements in the conditions for effective media.


 Does the law protect media against undue interference and prohibit all forms of government and state censorship?
 Has there been a comprehensive national audit to identify legal obstacles to journalism?
 Does the state meet its obligations under international law to defend media freedom, to combat impunity and to protect journalists?
 Does the law adequately protect the right of journalists to maintain confidentiality of sources of information?
 Have all criminal provisions restricting journalism, in particular libel and insult laws, been removed from the penal code?
 Is there need to review laws covering blasphemy and defamation?
 Are there laws in place to protect pluralism in media and to combat concentration of media ownership?
 Do state media operate according to public service standards of editorial independence and transparency and are they effectively shielded from political control?
 Is there a freedom of information law?
 Is there open government? Can citizens and journalists access public information through a viable, practical and properly funded service?
 Is investigative journalism and the public right to know respected in law and practice?
 Do terrorism and security laws unduly affect journalistic work and infringe free expression?
 Does privacy protection balance carefully the rights of journalists?

Things to do:

Action in many of these areas needs to be undertaken by strong and effective organisations with a national reach and a solid base within journalism. Union of journalists are the most appropriate bodies to initiate action. However, every opportunity should be taken to build alliances of civil society groups concerned with basic freedoms and an open society.

If a national review of law has not taken place recently, then organise one. Identify the rules and laws that are most offensive and prepare alternatives. This requires clear and unambiguous legal language that defines rights and sets out obligations for the authorities to provide protection for citizens and media.

Establish working groups, involving different partners – from the law and civil society as well as from media – and harvest the most useful and relevant material from national and international media support groups, including ARTICLE 19, and the International Freedom of Expression Exchange.

Improve links with the authorities – government, the police and army – and cultivate useful and sympathetic contacts within the political community. Set up meetings between unions and employers with government officials and parliamentarians to discuss specific demands – freedom of information, action over impunity, public service regulation. Some unions have established national advisory groups in parliaments made up of former journalists or media people to help them lobby for change.

Build or strengthen links between journalists and civil society – human rights bodies, local campaigners, trades unions, women’s groups, and representatives of minority communities – to get broad support for improving the legal conditions. Do not allow rivalries, such as differences with other journalists’ unions, to get in the way of effective solidarity action.

Prepare materials (posters, leaflets, web-site, and social networks) for actions that are linked with national or international events, such as world Press Freedom Day (May 3). Circulate the information about activities to international networks.