International Affairs A Russian Journal of World Politics, Diplomacy and International Relations
Editor-in-Chief: Armen Oganesyan
Executive Secretary: Evgenia Pyadysheva
Editorial Advisory Board:
Minister of Foreign Affairs of Russia
First Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Russia
Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Russia
Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Russia
Permanent Representative of Russia to the UN
Permanent Representative of Russia to the European Union
Director General of Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia
Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Federation Council
Head of the Federal Agency for Press and Mass Communications
Doctor of Science (History)
Special Representative of the Russian President for Cooperation with African Countries
Rector, Moscow State Institute of International Relations
President, Russian International Affairs Council
Vice President, Chamber of Commerce and Industry
Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to the Vatican
Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to the PRC
Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to the United Kingdom
Chairman of the Board, Interstate Oil Company Soyuzneftegaz
Doctor of Science (Political Science)
Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, State Duma
Doctor of Science (Political Science)
Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to the Slovak Republic
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Author: A. Denisov
Author: M. Kurakin
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Free Journalism: Challenges of Our Time
Author: M. Kurakin
IN DECEMBER 2018, an international forum, "Freedom of Journalism in the Context of Human Rights, New Technologies and International Information Security," took place in Pezinok, a suburb of Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia. It was attended by more than 70 experts and members of the media from 12 countries. The forum was organized by Moscow State University, the International Affairs journal, the Russian Union of Journalists, and several foreign media outlets. Russian Ambassador to Slovakia Alexey Fedotov said in his welcoming remarks that Bratislava is perhaps the best venue for such international conferences, considering the high level of mutual understanding that exists between Russia and Slovakia, as well as common Slavic historical traditions.
"I am convinced that preserving media freedom and independence is a necessary prerequisite for the successful democratic development of civil society in any sovereign state. This is an essential condition for the normal peaceful functioning of the system of international relations and a secure world order. This is precisely why any attempts to obstruct media activities for political reasons are unacceptable. However, as we can see, professional journalists are being put on sanctions lists, denied entry, deported, and subjected to physical and psychological violence.
"Unfortunately, there are numerous examples of this kind. A case in point is the detention of Kirill Vyshinsky, a journalist who was arrested by the Ukrainian authorities simply for honestly performing his journalistic duty. In France, it came to the point where Russian journalists were barred from a meeting between Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and his French counterpart. Many Western countries, which call themselves models of media freedom, are using special bureaucratic obstacles to impede the work of uncooperative journalists. It is important to understand that this unacceptable practice with regard to Russian journalists is becoming commonplace and can affect any journalist, not only a Russian
Mikhail Kurakin, Deputy Editor-in-Chief of International Affairs; email@example.com
one. This is what is happening in Ukraine, EU countries and the United States," Alexey Fedotov said.
Representatives of various international organizations showed great interest in the conference, which was due to their concern about the situation with the dissemination of information, threats related to the surge in the use of so-called fake news and risks to reporters' lives, as well as many other problems accompanying professional journalistic activities. This was the focus of remarks by Marius Lukošiūnas, a program specialist at UNESCO Headquarters in the Division of Freedom of Expression and Media Development, who presented key points of a special UNESCO report on the issue.
Bratislava is the best venue for such international conferences, considering the high level of mutual understanding that exists between Russia and Slovakia, as well as common Slavic historical traditions.
"The report is based on four main reference points: We have analyzed the state of freedom, independence, security, and pluralism, using them to identify global trends. Media freedom: On the negative side, the transmission of information is being limited, but on the positive side, access to information is improving. That is, with regard to restrictions, the number of Internet resource closures is growing, but at the same time, UNESCO member countries support the concept of Internet universality. In other words, the picture is a mixed one. Pluralism: On the one hand, there is broad access and it is expanding, but on the other, choice within this broad access is being limited. Here too, the picture is mixed. Media independence: There is a tendency toward greater vulnerability - that is, increasing dependence on state and corporate subsidies, and media credibility is declining in several regions. On the other hand, the sector is showing growing resistance to encroachments on its independence," Lukošiūnas said.
According to the report, in 2016-2017, 182 journalists were killed around the world, which is a little less than in the previous two-year period (203). Law enforcement agencies are stepping up their activities in investigating the deaths of members of the media. However, in Lukošiūnas's expression, this trend reflects only the "average hospital patient temperature": Security and law enforcement agencies in various parts of the world respond differently to attacks on journalists.
"As for Central and Eastern Europe, we are witnessing a trend toward deterioration: a general decline in respect for media freedom, intensifying pressure on journalists, including attacks with the use of digital technology, such as online harassment, insults, fabrication of criminal cases, and so on," Lukošiūnas said.
Martin Nesirky, acting director of the United Nations Information Service in Vienna, recalled that in 2018, 80 reporters were killed around the world. Most of these crimes go unsolved (89% between 2006 and 2016).
Responding to a question from an International Affairs correspondent regarding the problem of objective news coverage on social networks, where a large amount of fake news circulates, the UN representative said that disinformation has become a serious problem recently. "You have rightly observed that social networks have become an integral part of life for many people. We understand that there are both positive and negative aspects of their use. UNESCO is paying special attention to this. For its part, the UN is working to involve young people communicating on the Internet in its activities, telling them in detail about current problems, such as respect for human rights, climate change, and so on. We believe that the knowledge and experience thus acquired will help the younger generation analyze data and identify disinformation," Nesirky stressed.
In his remarks, Andrei Richter, senior adviser at the OSCE Office of the Representative on Freedom of the Media, recalled that the problem of media disinformation has been around for much more than one decade, and all this time international agencies have been trying to tackle it. "The first such organization was the League of Nations, which in 1927 held a meeting of journalism and media experts to understand the impact of the spread of false news that affects relations between nations, provokes distrust between them and hurts international peace," he said.
The first document specifically devoted to the issue of false news was a convention adopted by the League of Nations in 1936, which is officially still in force. It is on the list of existing UN treaties. The Russian Federation is a party to this convention, as are some other countries, such as Lithuania and Estonia. It is the International Convention concerning the Use of Broadcasting in the Cause of Peace whereby states undertook to prohibit and to stop within their respective territories any transmission likely to harm good international understanding by statements the incorrectness of which is or ought to be known to the persons responsible for the broadcast. In practice, the convention urged governments to issue
guidelines for state broadcasting services to ensure the verification of information concerning international relations, as well as issue similar recommendations for nonstate broadcasters, Richter recalled.
According to him, following the creation of the UN, false news was one of the first key issues in discussing documents related to human rights. Limiting the dissemination of false information was viewed as an important factor in maintaining peace throughout the world. In 1948, the UN General Assembly adopted a special resolution urging states to make proposals on ways of countering false information. The majority of democratic countries stated that false news could be countered with official denial, via press conferences, where authorities would ensure citizens access to various sources of truthful information and news.
"The adoption of the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the basic document on freedom of expression in the world, was preceded by years of discussions in various committees. As a result of those discussions, it was proposed that freedom of expression be limited in the event of the deliberate and systematic spread of false or distorted news that undermined friendly relations between peoples and states. Western countries, above all the United States, were categorically against any such limitations. They said that would mean the imposition of unacceptable censorship, that punishment for those spreading false information would not solve the problem, and judicial verdicts imposing such bans would not achieve the set goal. The UN Commission on Human Rights finally rejected any such limitations. Attempts to introduce restrictions were also made during the discussion of other documents, including the European Convention on Human Rights," the OSCE representative recalled.
He also dwelled on some legal documents that enable states to refute false or incorrect information disseminated by other countries, as well as the relevant legal practices and procedures. In particular, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights has confirmed citizens' right to the truth - not just to information.
Speaking about the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), Richter also mentioned what he referred to as interesting rulings, for instance, in the Bader v. Austria case, which was examined in 1996. Erwin Bader, an Austrian professor, complained that the Austrian Broadcasting Corporation (ORF) had violated his right to receive objective information in the context of the referendum on Austria's accession to the European Union.
The applicant complained that in covering the referendum, the ORF disseminated incomplete and biased information for unduly influencing the voters in favor of a positive vote at the referendum, thus violating the National Broadcasting Act and norms of the European Convention on Human Rights. The European Court agreed that the ORF's coverage was biased. Nevertheless, the applicant's rights were not violated, since his intention to vote No in the referendum remained unchanged despite the biased information disseminated by the broadcaster. Furthermore, that information did not prevent the applicant from the effective exercise of his rights. The court declared the application inadmissible.
In closing, the OSCE representative commented that the international court and other agencies believe that the right to receive information also means the right to receive false information, the right to disinformation, and that such decisions have been made, in particular by supreme courts in the U.S. and Slovakia.
Stefan Garabin, justice of the Supreme Court of Slovakia, said that with modern information technology and social networks, countries are losing the ability to control and influence public opinion and people's behavior to achieve their own goals.
"So, several power groups decided to take control of all media in the world and impose their opinion on everyone else - take, for example, the propaganda of war and the 'humanitarian' bombing of Yugoslavia. However, there was no UN Security Council resolution! That is a clear violation of international law, an act of aggression. Nevertheless, the media spread information about the need for democratization of Yugoslavia. That was also the case with Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and Syria. U.S., British and French forces bombed Syria without the approval of the UN Security Council, while the media supported those strikes, substantiating their position in particular by the alleged presence of chemical weapons in Syria. As a member of the Supreme Court, however, I cannot accept these charges without conclusive proof. As for the 'responsibility' of a specific party, such decisions are based now solely on media reports," he said.
According to Garabin, Brussels politicians are limiting the state sovereignty of EU countries. "We do not want to take in migrants who are being imposed on us; we do not want our cultural and moral values to be dissolved. I announced my decision to run for the presidency. As soon as I did, forces that do not want to have the rule of law in the country launched an attack against me. In addition to constant personal attacks
against me, the so-called mainstream media became a platform for politicians seeking to influence the Supreme Court. I was targeted by the press. Take, for instance, my video where I first criticized the migration policy. This video was blocked on Facebook the following day without any reason. They did not even try to substantiate their decision. And these are people who position themselves as human rights advocates and defenders of freedom of expression. This is not simply exclusion and censorship, but interference in future elections; the state is opposing a potentially successful candidate.
"This case shows how deplorable the situation is. I am not complaining. I am just stating facts. What if I, as a judge, were to accuse someone without providing any cause or evidence? That is nonsense! Some topics are absolutely off limits to us. Instead of discussing them freely, people can only say what is allowed. Actually, what we have here is diktat - what to say and how," Slovak politician said in conclusion.
Responding to a question from an International Affairs reporter, Stefan Garabin said that if he wins the election, the first thing he will do is to ensure that all rule-of-law state institutions function properly: "After all, both national and international law contains provisions regarding respect for freedom of expression. Unfortunately, these provisions are often ignored. We are witnessing journalists' apartments being searched by police following the publication of certain articles. This is wrong. It is necessary that everyone, from the prime minister and the president to law enforcement officers, do their work in keeping the existing law and regulations. I would like to stress that criminal legislation must not be used for political purposes."
Key words: Slovakia, forum, UNESCO, media freedom, EU.