Here you can find guidance to help you report on religion related issues in a way that supports freedom of religion or belief for all, freedom of expression and equality.
The media has a huge impact on public attitudes. The stories chosen (and not chosen) and their tone and angle have a direct impact on the lives of ordinary people – and influence governments. Organisations that monitor hate crimes have documented a clear link between the use of an inflammatory tone in news reports and spikes in hate crime statistics.
Whatever our profession, we have a responsibility to respect human rights. This responsibility weighs particularly heavily on the media.
Learn about the issues
Online course: FORB for all
A self-study course on freedom of religion or belief (FORB) that you can take at your own pace, at any time. A mid-level introduction to the issues.
Online course: FORB and gender equality – enemies or allies?
A self-study course on the relationship between women’s rights and FORB. Take the course at your own page, any time. Includes a module on family law.
Concrete recommendations for the media and states
The Camden Principles on freedom of expression and equality
The Camden principles are packed with concrete recommendations for the media (and the state) in ensuring both equality and freedom of expression. They were prepared by Article19 on the basis of discussions involving a group of high-level UN and other officials, and civil society and academic experts in international human rights law on freedom of expression and equality.
Principle 1: Ratification and incorporation of human rights law
All States should ratify and give effect in domestic law, through incorporation or otherwise, international and regional human rights treaties guaranteeing the rights to equality and freedom of expression.
Principle 2: Legal framework for the protection of the right to freedom of expression
2.1. States should ensure that the right to freedom of opinion and expression, through any medium of communication, including the right to information, is enshrined in domestic constitutional provisions or their equivalent, in accordance with international human rights law.
2.2. In particular, States should ensure that domestic constitutional provisions set out clearly the scope of permissible restrictions on the right to freedom of expression, including that such restrictions must be provided by law, be narrowly defined to serve a legitimate interest recognised in the constitution, and be necessary in a democratic
society to protect that interest.
2.3. States should establish a clear legal framework for the protection of the right to information, including the right of access to information held by public bodies, and promote the proactive disclosure of information.
Principle 3: Legal framework for the protection of the right to equality
3.1. States should ensure that the right to equality is enshrined in domestic constitutional provisions or their equivalent, in accordance with international human rights law.
3.2. Domestic legislation should guarantee that:
i. All persons are equal before the law and are entitled to the equal protection of the law.
ii. Everyone has the right to be free of discrimination based on grounds such as race, gender, ethnicity, religion or belief, disability, age, sexual orientation, language, political or other opinion, national or social origin, nationality, property, birth or other status.
3.3. States should establish a clear legal and policy framework for combating discrimination in its various forms, including harassment, and for realising the right to equality, including in relation to freedom of expression.
Principle 4: Access to remedies
4.1. States should ensure the availability of accessible and effective remedies for human rights violations, including violations of the rights to freedom of expression and equality. These should include both judicial and non-judicial remedies, such as before national human rights institutions and/or ombudspersons.
4.2. States should ensure that the right to a fair and public hearing by a competent, independent and impartial tribunal established by law is guaranteed.
Principle 5: A public policy framework for pluralism and equality
5.1. All States should have in place a public policy and regulatory framework for the media, including new media, which promotes pluralism and equality, in accordance with the following:
i. The framework should respect the fundamental principle that any regulation of the media should only be undertaken by bodies which are independent of the government, which are publicly accountable and which operate transparently.
ii. The framework should promote the right of different communities to freely access and use media and information and communications technologies for the production and circulation of their own content, as well as for the reception of content produced by others, regardless of frontiers.
5.2. This framework should be implemented, among others, through the following measures:
i. Promoting universal and affordable access to the means of communication and reception of media services, including telephones, the Internet and electricity.
ii. Ensuring that there is no discrimination in relation to the right to establish newspapers, radio and television outlets, and other communications systems.
iii. Allocating sufficient ‘space’ to broadcasting uses on different communications platforms to ensure that, as a whole, the public is able to receive a range of diverse broadcasting services.
iv. Making an equitable allocation of resources, including broadcasting frequencies, among public service, commercial and community media, so that together they represent the full range of cultures, communities and opinions in society
v. Requiring the governing bodies of media regulators broadly to reflect society as a whole.
vi. Putting in place effective measures to prevent undue concentration of media ownership.
vii. Providing public support, whether financial or in other forms, through an independent and transparent process, and based on objective criteria, to promote the provision of reliable, pluralist and timely information for all, and the production of content which makes an important contribution to diversity or which promotes dialogue among different communities.
5.3. This framework should also include the following measures:
i. Repealing any restrictions on the use of minority languages that have the effect of discouraging or preventing media specifically addressed to different communities.
ii. Making diversity, including in terms of media targeting different communities, one of the criteria for assessing broadcasting licence applications.
iii. Ensuring that disadvantaged and excluded groups have equitable access to media resources, including training opportunities.
5.4. Public service values in the media should be protected and enhanced by transforming State- or government-controlled media systems, by strengthening existing public service broadcasting networks, and by ensuring adequate funding for public service media, so as to ensure pluralism, freedom of expression and equality in a changing media landscape.
Principle 6: Role of the mass media
6.1. All mass media should, as a moral and social responsibility, take steps to:
i. Ensure that their workforces are diverse and representative of society as a whole.
ii. Address as far as possible issues of concern to all groups in society.
iii. Seek a multiplicity of sources and voices within different communities, rather than representing communities as monolithic blocs.
iv. Adhere to high standards of information provision that meet recognised professional and ethical standards.
Principle 7: Right of correction and reply
7.1. The rights of correction and reply should be guaranteed to protect the right to equality and non-discrimination, and the free flow of information.
7.2. The exercise of a right of correction or reply should not extinguish other remedies, although it may be taken into account in the consideration of such other remedies, for example to reduce damage awards.
7.3. These rights are best protected through self-regulatory systems. No mandatory right of reply or correction should be imposed where an effective self-regulatory system is in place.
7.4. The right of correction gives any person the right to demand that a mass media outlet publish or broadcast a correction where that media outlet has previously published or broadcast incorrect information.
7.5. The right of reply gives any person the right to have a mass media outlet disseminate his or her response where the publication or broadcast by that media outlet of incorrect or misleading facts has infringed a recognised right of that person, and where a correction cannot reasonably be expected to redress the wrong.
Principle 8: State responsibilities
8.1. States should impose obligations on public officials at all levels, including ministers, to avoid as far as possible making statements that promote discrimination or undermine equality and intercultural understanding. For civil servants, this should be reflected in formal codes of conduct or employment rules.
8.2. States should engage in broad efforts to combat negative stereotypes of, and discrimination against, individuals and groups and to promote intercultural understanding and evaluation, including by providing teacher training on human rights values and principles and by introducing or strengthening intercultural understanding as a part of the school curriculum for pupils of all ages.
Principle 9: Media responsibilities
9.1. All media should, as a moral and social responsibility, play a role in combating
discrimination and in promoting intercultural understanding, including by considering
i. Taking care to report in context and in a factual and sensitive manner, while ensuring that acts of discrimination are brought to the attention of the public.
ii. Being alert to the danger of discrimination or negative stereotypes of individuals and groups being furthered by the media.
iii. Avoiding unnecessary references to race, religion, gender and other group characteristics that may promote intolerance.
iv. Raising awareness of the harm caused by discrimination and negative stereotyping.
v. Reporting on different groups or communities and giving their members an opportunity to speak and to be heard in a way that promotes a better understanding of them, while at the same time reflecting the perspectives of those groups or communities.
9.2. Public service broadcasters should be under an obligation to avoid negative stereotypes of individuals and groups, and their mandate should require them to promote intercultural understanding and to foster a better understanding of different communities and the issues they face. This should include the airing of programmes which portray different communities as equal members of society.
9.3. Professional codes of conduct for the media and journalists should reflect equality principles and effective steps should be taken to promulgate and implement such codes.
9.4. Professional development programmes for media professionals should raise awareness about the role the media can play in promoting equality and the need to avoid negative stereotypes.
Principle 10: Other actors
10.1. Politicians and other leadership figures in society should avoid making statements that might promote discrimination or undermine equality, and should take advantage of their positions to promote intercultural understanding, including by contesting, where appropriate, discriminatory statements or behaviour.
10.2. Civil society organisations should respect pluralism, and promote the rights to
freedom of expression and equality in accordance with these Principles. In particular, they should promote intercultural understanding, acknowledge dissenting voices, and support the ability of members of different communities, and particularly marginalised groups, to voice their perspectives and concerns, in a way that recognises the internal diversity of communities.
Principle 11: Restrictions
11.1. States should not impose any restrictions on freedom of expression that are not in accordance with the standards set out in Principle 3.2 and, in particular, restrictions should be provided by law, serve to protect the rights or reputations of others, national security or public order, or public health or morals, and be necessary in a democratic society to protect these interests. This implies, among other things, that restrictions:
i. Are clearly and narrowly defined and respond to a pressing social need.
ii. Are the least intrusive measure available, in the sense that there is no other measure which would be effective and yet less restrictive of freedom of expression.
iii. Are not overbroad, in the sense that they do not restrict speech in a wide or untargeted way, or go beyond the scope of harmful speech and rule out legitimate speech.
iv. Are proportionate in the sense that the benefit to the protected interest outweighs the harm to freedom of expression, including in respect to the sanctions they authorise.
11.2. States should review their legal framework to ensure that any restrictions on freedom of expression conform to the above.
Principle 12: Incitement to hatred
12.1. All States should adopt legislation prohibiting any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence (hate speech). National legal systems should make it clear, either explicitly or through authoritative interpretation, that:
i. The terms ‘hatred’ and ‘hostility’ refer to intense and irrational emotions of opprobrium, enmity and detestation towards the target group.
ii. The term ‘advocacy’ is to be understood as requiring an intention to promote hatred publicly towards the target group.
iii. The term incitement refers to statements about national, racial or religious groups which create an imminent risk of discrimination, hostility or violence against persons belonging to those groups.
iv. The promotion, by different communities, of a positive sense of group identity does not constitute hate speech.
12.2. States should prohibit the condoning or denying of crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, but only where such statements constitute hate speech as defined by Principle 12.1.
12.3. States should not prohibit criticism directed at, or debate about, particular ideas, beliefs or ideologies, or religions or religious institutions, unless such expression constitutes hate speech as defined by Principle 12.1.
12.4. States should ensure that persons who have suffered actual damages as a result of hate speech as defined by Principle 12.1 have a right to an effective remedy, including a civil remedy for damages.
12.5. States should review their legal framework to ensure that any hate speech regulations conform to the above.
The Rabat plan of action on the prohibition of incitement to national, racial or religious hatred is the result of broad international process of consultation organised by the UN. The plan includes sections of particular relevance to the media, including paragraph 58 and 59.
§ 58. Self-regulation, where effective, remains the most appropriate way to address professional issues relating to the media. In line with principle 9 of the Camden Principles, all media should, as a moral and social responsibility and through self-regulation, play a role in combating discrimination and promoting intercultural understanding, including by considering the following:
(a) Taking care to report in context and in a factual and sensitive manner, while ensuring that acts of discrimination are brought to the attention of the public.
(b) Being alert to the danger of furthering discrimination or negative stereotypes of individuals and groups in the media.
(c) Avoiding unnecessary references to race, religion, gender and other group characteristics that may promote intolerance.
(d) Raising awareness of the harm caused by discrimination and negative stereotyping.
(e) Reporting on different groups or communities and giving their members the opportunity to speak and to be heard in a way that promotes a better understanding of them, while at the same time reflecting the perspectives of those groups or communities.
§ 59. Furthermore, voluntary professional codes of conduct for the media and journalists should reflect the principle of equality, and effective steps should be taken to promulgate and implement such codes.
Watch this video on the plan of action
Freedom of expression is a fundamental right, indispensable in democratic societies. However, this right is not an absolute right, and incitement to hatred is an example of unprotected speech. The United Nations Rabat Plan of Action on the Prohibition of Incitement to Hatred provides a comprehensive set of factors for States to address this issue and guidance for the media, drawing a clear line between freedom of expression and incitement to hatred and violence. Film published by UNESCO.
Hate speech explained – a toolkit
Designed for civil society and activists (including media activists) this toolkit helps you unpack the concept of hate speech in various ways – including through the lens of the Rabat Plan of Action Threshold test for determining what kind of hate speech should be illegal.
The hate speech barometer
This simple, fun and thought provoking group exercise in the form of a ‘barometer’ game helps participants reflect on what constitutes illegal hate speech using the Rabat Plan of Action threshhold test. Inspired by the Minority Rights Group toolkit.
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