The ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) organised the AICHR Regional Forum on Media and Human Rights in ASEAN on 16 and 17 May 2016 at Hotel Istana, Kuala Lumpur. The Forum was led by AICHR-Malaysia working in collaboration with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Communications and Information, the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (SUHAKAM), ASEAN Secretariat and the Regional Europe-ASEAN Dialogue Instrument, Human Rights Facility (READI, HRF).
The Forum was the first AICHR Priority Programme for 2016 led by Malaysia since H.E. Edmund Bon Tai Soon’s appointment as the new Representative of Malaysia to AICHR in April this year. It occasioned the first official engagement between AICHR and the Senior Officials’ Meeting Responsible for Information (SOMRI), the latter being the ASEAN sectoral body in charge of the media and information-related issues for ASEAN Member States.
The Forum brought together more than 100 participants from all ASEAN Member States including AICHR Representatives, representatives of government media agencies, media practitioners, academics and human rights experts.
The objective of the Forum was, among others, for AICHR to engage with the media, to inform its on-going work and to share good practices among media practitioners. Participants paid particular focus to human rights issues involving four selected groups, namely, women and children, persons with disabilities, persons living with HIV and migrant workers.
H.E. Edmund Bon, in his welcoming remarks, pointed out that the media is the ‘fourth estate’ – an arm to check and balance the use (and abuse) of power. Commenting on the right to freedom of opinion, expression and information enshrined in Article 23 of the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration (AHRD), he explained that while freedom of opinion is absolute, freedom of expression may be limited. The grounds for permissible limitations are found in Article 8 of the AHRD, and they must be read narrowly. He said that such limitations must be (i) prescribed by law, (ii) pursue a legitimate aim, and (iii) be restricted to the extent necessary to attain the legitimate aim. Further, he stressed the need for AICHR to assist ASEAN Member States develop a common approach and position on human rights matters of interest – in this case, the right to freedom of opinion, expression and information – as mandated by paragraph 4.11 of AICHR’s Terms of Reference.
The Chair of SOMRI, in his speech, emphasised the need for media practitioners to uphold ethics, professionalism and standards in their dissemination of information. He reiterated that media practitioners have the responsibility to check and verify stories before they are reported in order to avoid possible conflicts.
The two-day Forum was divided into four sessions, i.e. (i) Bridging the Gaps between Human Rights & the Role of Media; (ii) Ethics and Professionalism in Reporting: Embracing Human Rights; (iii) New Media in Promoting Human Rights: Opportunities and Challenges; and (iv) Media Reporting on the Rights of women and children, persons with disabilities, persons living with HIV and migrant workers.
Among others, the Forum discussed the need to promote media self-regulatory instruments in accordance with principles of international human rights law, and the means by which governments and media practitioners may work together to better promote human rights through the media. The participants also shared good practices when reporting on vulnerable groups by paying closer attention to the purpose of the reports and the language used in describing the said groups.
In the spirit that the Forum is to positively impact ASEAN’s human rights mechanism, H.E. Edmund Bon chaired two sessions at the end of each day leading to a participants’ shared ‘Outcome Document’. The Document contains observations and recommendations from the Forum for AICHR’s adoption including the drafting of an explanatory note or comment on Article 23 of the AHRD and guidelines of good practices on media reporting.
On behalf of AICHR-Malaysia, H.E. Edmund Bon will present a report on the Forum (including the Outcome Document) to AICHR, and to discuss necessary follow-up action that should be implemented.