THE Independent High-Level Legal Panel, backed by the Media Freedom Coalition, has been a busy forum since its establishment in 2019. It has taken up the matter of security for journalists working in trying conditions, often under hostile governments, with the seriousness that the issue demands. In its third report on media freedom published on Monday, the IHLLP has not limited itself to asking Commonwealth governments to implement its recommendations to provide safe refuge to journalists in danger. In fact, it has come up with pathways that can rescue journalists from perilous situations. The report makes nine important recommendations, including a suggestion to introduce an emergency visa for journalists at risk and for their immediate families. In case the passports of such journalists are revoked by their country, it is recommended that they be provided urgent documents to travel to safety. The provision of security under the Refugee Convention is recommended for journalists who should be allowed to apply for asylum from within their own country. Yet another recommendation calls for measures to prevent victimisation of journalists on occasions such as when an extradition is sought on the basis of red warrants.

Professional unions have hailed the direction advised by the report. More than 450 journalists were forced into exile between 2010 and 2015; almost 400 were detained last year. Over 60 journalists went ‘too far’ and were missing in 2018 — numbers that again doubled over a decade. Pakistan features prominently in the report as one of the countries from where the 15 individual cases for the study have been taken. The applause the report has received from the Commonwealth Journalists Association was expected. The next good thing would be for all members of the Commonwealth family and the world at large to join the cause in earnest. Only six of the 40 governments that have joined the coalition and signed the Global Pledge on Media Freedom are from the Commonwealth. What steps have the rest taken to protect journalists?

Published in Dawn, November 25th, 2020

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