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RightsCon Lunch Session on Universal Do-No-Harm Principles and Best Practices for PVE/CVE/CP- How Do We Get There?

16 March 2017
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The media development sector, freedom of expression activists, digital rights groups as well as other members of civil society are increasingly feeling pressure from donors and authorities to participate in government efforts to counter violent extremism. Organisations are expected to contribute to strategic communications efforts including counter-narratives, in many cases, much against their will and in contradiction to their own ethical standards. GFMD has asked Dr. Joan Barata Mir, an international expert in freedom of expression, media freedom and media regulation, to moderate a discussion at RightsCon dedicated to Do No-Harm Principles and Best Practices for the Preventing Violent Extremism/ Countering Violent Extremism/ Counter-Propaganda (PVE/CVE/CP) agenda. In the following Q&A Dr. Joan Barata Mir provides a snapshot of the primary concerns to be addressed during the meeting and outlines the way forward in what promises to be a highly charged multi-stakeholder discussion and deliberation at RightsCon.

How would Do-No-Harm Principles contribute towards resolving ethical challenges faced by the media development community in Preventing/ Countering Violent Extremism, and Counter-Propaganda (PVE/CVE/CP)?

The formulation of a series of clear and proportionate principles regarding the establishment and fulfilment of PVE/CVE/CP measures by the media development community will facilitate the creation of a stable and certain environment vis-a-vis the relationship between media institutions, donors, and local political institutions and authorities. It may also assist policy makers and donors in the formulation of PVE/CVE/CP measures which are consistent with the reality of the country as well as the capacities and resources of the media community. These principles may also be of particular interest in facilitating the involvement of most relevant stakeholders in the discussion and adoption of PVE/CVE/CP measures. Last but not least, principles should also be useful in cases of divergence of interpretations or disagreements between the media sector and those monitoring PVE/CVE/CP commitments.

What are the major concerns that the Principles will be engaging with and what is the best possible mode for their implementation?

There are a series of main areas or objectives which, in my view, need to be properly addressed in the principles:

a) Avoid undue interference in editorial independence and freedom of expression of individuals.

b) Establish a series of rules to properly balance the role of private intermediaries (digital intermediaries, private companies providing assistance in PVE/CVE/CP issues, etc.), with the need to preserve media independence and freedom of expression.

c) Establish a series of principles in order to harmonise and guarantee consistency between “traditional” ethical standards in journalism and PVE/CVE/CP measures.

d) Establish a series of parameters in order to deal with cases of possible conflict or inconsistency between PVE/CVE/CP directives and reporting on matters of public interest by journalists and media.

e) Establish criteria in order to assess, on a regular basis, the impact of PVE/CVE/CP measures on media development.

f) Identify the mechanisms that will, in practice, facilitate the involvement of different PVE/CVE/CP stakeholders in the formulation and execution of PVE/CVE/CP measures.

g) Formulate a few parameters to be taken into account in cases where PVE/CVE/CP measures would also be the object of legislation or regulation by competent authorities.

In what ways can the media development community, media freedom and freedom of expression activists, media regulators, and digital rights groups collaborate further in strengthening the ethical approach towards PVE/CVE/CP?

It has to be said, first of all, that dialogue between all these stakeholders on PVE/CVE/CP issues may in some cases need to be started from scratch. PVE/CVE/CP is quite often contemplated from a counter-terrorism perspective only, or from the point of view of the promotion of tolerance and non-discrimination. However, the issue of the impact on digital rights, activism, investigative journalism, as well as media development has not been properly considered yet on such multi-stakeholder basis. Therefore, a series of actions may need to be considered in order to raise common awareness and find a shared language and understanding of such matters among stakeholders. These actions may include:

a) Preparation of Do-No-Harm Principles that contemplate the matter in its complexity and define clear guidelines previously agreed and understood by all stakeholders.

b) Discuss possible amendments in self-regulatory codes and mechanisms in order to incorporate a multi-dimensional approach to PVE/CVE/CP (not only in terms of media responsibilities but also regarding the preservation of media editorial independence).

c) Incorporate digital intermediaries in any discussion and initiative in order to avoid circumventions or unilateral restrictive measures being adopted by such global private digital companies.

d) Approach and engage media statutory regulators in order to avoid excessive levels of intervention in this area and a proper understanding of these matters.

e) Promote this discussion among non-media activists involved in the promotion of tolerance, in order to sensitise them vis-a-vis the need to protect digital rights and media independence when countering certain types of discourse.

f) Consider training activities to sensitise journalists in this area, particularly those involved in investigative reporting.