Freedom of expression and media freedom

Canada believes freedom of expression is at the core of human individuality and is one of the essential foundations of a safe and prosperous society.

The right of everyone to hold opinions without interference and the right to freedom of expression are in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and reaffirmed in Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

This includes the freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, whether orally, in writing or in print, or through any other media of choice. Certain restrictions are only permissible when in line with international human rights law.

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Canada’s support for freedom of expression

Canada actively raises concerns about violations of freedom of expression, including freedom of the media, in bilateral and multilateral meetings. These forums include UN General Assembly, the UN Human Rights Council, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, and other international gatherings.

In line with the need to protect freedom of expression, Canada led a new resolution in July 2020 alongside other partners to put the issue of freedom of expression back on the agenda of the Human Rights Council. The resolution ensures that evolving international norms take into account contemporary issues facing freedom of expression. Canada co-sponsored in December 2019 the most recent UN General Assembly resolution on the safety of journalists (A/RES/74/157).

Media freedom

Canada strongly believes that media freedom remains an important part of democratic societies and essential to the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms. People need free media to provide them with accurate information and informed analysis to hold governments to account.

What Canada is doing to support media freedom

Canada is playing an international leadership role on the issue of media freedom. We co-hosted the Global Conference for Media Freedom, in July 2019, in London, United Kingdom. We are applying the outcomes of this event and, in particular, the Global Pledge on Media Freedom. Governments that signed the pledge commit to working together through the newly created Media Freedom Coalition. The coalition launched on September 25, 2019, on the margins of the UN General Assembly. There are 42 signatories.

In June 2019, Canada launched updated guidelines to support human rights defenders around the world with specific guidance for journalists. In July 2019, Canada announced $1 million in funding to the new Global Media Defence Fund, administered by UNESCO. In November 2020, Canada announced an additional $1 million in funding to the Fund to help enhance media access to legal assistance.

Currently, Canada funds media freedom projects in the Middle East and Africa. These Canadian projects train journalists to accurately and responsibly report on human rights in their communities. The journalists work with local civil society and host governments. The projects encourage a better understanding that a free press promotes accountable governance, which effectively meets the needs of its citizens.

Canada is committed to making sure that its initiatives align with the UN Plan of Action and are consistent with its overall objective.

In November 2020, Canada and Botswana co-hosted the second Global Conference for Media Freedom. The online event featured the first Ministerial meeting of the Media Freedom Coalition,. The conference provided a forum to strengthen joint efforts in defending media freedom worldwide. It also provided a platform to connect with journalists, civil society and governments.

Current state of media freedom worldwide

Laws, punitive legal measures and physical violence are restricting journalists’ and media organizations’ vital work. There has been a significant decline in the environments that allow media professionals to do their work. These issues are especially critical in regions facing social, ethnic and political stress, armed conflicts or disaster situations.

Another outstanding issue is the large number of unresolved murders of journalists and the perpetrators going unpunished. According to the International Federation of Journalists, 60 journalists and media workers were killed in 2020. Non-lethal attacks also range from intimidation to harassment and arbitrary detention; misogynistic attacks are also common.

Journalism continues to evolve into the digital space, and there is a need to address new threats to media freedom. Digital security concerns have increased as lines blur between online and offline activity. There are also signs of organized disinformation campaigns, which can be led by state actors and third parties. Journalists and other media professionals are some of the main targets of digital attacks and abuse. Any discussion on media freedom must reflect the growing concerns over digital threats.

Canada-U.K. Media Freedom Award

The Canada-U.K. Media Freedom Award was launched in 2020 to recognize individuals or organizations advocating for media freedom. It provides an opportunity to honour the less recognized grassroots organizations, campaign groups, lawyers and media outlets defending media freedom and fighting against impunity. The award is a way for Canada and the United Kingdom to show their support for the work of these individuals and organizations.

The winner of the 2020 Canada-U.K. Media Freedom Award was the Belarusian Association of Journalists for its ongoing commitment to journalistic ethics and principles and its perseverance and self-sacrifice in the face of increased targeted crackdowns on media in Belarus.

Policy papers on Media Freedom

In the lead up to the second Global Conference for Media Freedom, Canada commissioned a set of independent policy papers on media freedom. The aim of these policy papers is to engage in a broader discussion with experts on challenges facing media freedom; stimulate debate and discussion on policy recommendations; and help inform the Media Freedom Coalition’s future work.

Regional consultations on Media Freedom

In the lead up to the second Global Conference for Media Freedom, Canada carried out a number of regional consultations to engage directly with stakeholders and gather knowledge about media freedom challenges at the regional and sub-regional level.

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