TO FIGHT RACISM, REJECTS LEGAL LIMITS ON HATE SPEECH
In a recent joint statement, the three international rapporteurs on freedom of expression, representing the United Nations, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the Organization of American States, refer to the media's "moral and social obligation to make a positive contribution to the fight against racism, discrimination, xenophobia and intolerance" [See IFEX "Communique" #10-9]. WPFC does not share this view, emphasising that the media's only role is to report the news. The organisation also wrote to United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson on 25 April to express concern over the international rapporteurs joint statement.">http://communique.ifex.org/articles.cfm?category=0X&volume=10&issue_no=9%26amp;lng=english#2851">IFEX "Communique" #10-9]. WPFC does not share this view, emphasising that the media's only role is to report the news. The organisation also wrote to United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson on 25 April to express concern over the international rapporteurs joint statement.
WPFC strongly agrees with the international rapporteurs statement that "the free flow of information and ideas is one of the most powerful ways of combatting racism, discrimination, xenophobia and intolerance." However, the organisation says that efforts to prescribe what the news media should print or broadcast undermine the principles of press freedom. Such efforts, according to WPFC, support the view "there is some kind of 'correct' position on issues that the press is supposed to espouse."
In WPFC's opinion, a "free and independent press best combats racism, intolerance and related evils precisely by being free and independent." The organisation, whose approach is based on the concept of "negative liberty," that is, the least possible regulation, says the press should simply perform its usual function: "reporting the news impartially and, when appropriate, expressing editorial opinion that it, not someone else, decides needs to be expressed."
WPFC also rejects legal restrictions on hate speech, on the grounds that such limits simply drive expressions of hate underground where they cannot be exposed and countered. The organisation maintains that to fight intolerance, it must be readily identifiable, adding that "the best disinfectant is sunlight." Legal control of "hate speech" has too often been used as a "smokescreen for censorship" and such press controls can make it difficult or impossible to report about social tensions, says WPFC. The organisation also states that "if the notion of press freedom and freedom of expression mean anything at all, it must include the freedom to express unpopular or offensive views, too."
For the text of Ottaway's speech, see www.ifex.org. The international rapporteurs' statement on racism and the media is available at www.article19.org.