‘Freedom of Expression absolutely fundamental’

19 April 2016, 12:00AM

The new Secretary General of the Commonwealth, Patricia Scotland QC, is determined to put the Commonwealth back at centre stage where its member countries act collectively to uphold democracy, advance development, and celebrate diversity.

To achieve this, the first ever UK citizen to be elected to the position said, Freedom of Expression is an absolutely fundamental prerequisite, and it is one of the articles of the Commonwealth Charter that says: “We are committed to peaceful, open dialogue and the free flow of information, including through a free and responsible media, and to enhancing democratic traditions and strengthening democratic processes.”

Less than a week after taking up the job, she was speaking at the opening of the Commonwealth Journalists Association International Conference at the Open University in London 11-15 April.

“And so as the Commonwealth accredited organisation for journalists, the Commonwealth Journalists Association holds a special place in the Commonwealth family,” Scotland said.

“For you are the voice of our citizens. Your eyes are their eyes, and your ears are theirs. You see their needs, you tell their news, you understand their hopes and dreams, speak for them and make their story known.

“Vibrant and responsible media are vital to advancing our Commonwealth goals of democracy, development, rule of law and respect for diversity.

“Journalists have a special power of holding governments to account in between elections, and putting public figures - both people and numbers - under the microscope so we can understand better how our countries work – or don’t,” she emphasized.

“Good reporting educates and empowers Commonwealth citizens to be effective participants in political discourse and make informed decisions about the future of their own country.

“Bad journalism on the other hand doesn’t just let down those who are on the receiving end of poor reporting in that area. 

With the global reach of media today the loose and the sloppy in another part of the world can be cited by undemocratic governments or regimes as simply what they are trying to stop locally when in reality they’re launching something far more sinister.”  

Scotland also pinpointed major areas she will focus on in her tenure such as Justice and Peace, Climate Change, Domestic violence and abuse of women and children and Youth development amongst others.

The CJA Conference looked at “Journalism in A Digital Age” with high level presentations from Google News Lab and visits to iconic media outlets such as the BBC Digital Newsroom and the Telegraph. 

The ongoing debate where traditional media looks negatively at social media and citizen journalism, received a clear warning to adjust and adapt in order to keep and reach new emerging audiences using the available technology.

A Report of a study by the Open University on the migration of refugees from war torn regions to Europe, highlighted the refugees significant way or using mobile/smartphones and social media networks to access information and navigate their migration in their search for new homes.  

A new CJA Executive Council under Mahendra Ved of India as President will regenerate the organisation that was established in 1978 to raise standards and develop journalism in poorer parts of the Commonwealth in support of democracy and freedom of information and expression.

Samoa, one of the 53 member countries was represented by Apulu Lance Polu, Founder and Editor of Talamua Media who is an Executive Member of CJA representing the Pacific region.

His participation was funded by the British High Commission in Wellington that will also fund training and professional development of the media and journalism through the Journalists Association of Samoa.      

19 April 2016, 12:00AM

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