Media Freedom Coalition: terms of reference

Contents

The Media Freedom Coalition, formed in July 2019 at the Global Conference for Media Freedom, is a partnership of countries working together to:

  • advocate for media freedom and safety of journalists, and
  • hold to account those who harm journalists for doing their job

Coalition members signed the Global Pledge on Media Freedom, a written commitment to improving media freedom domestically and working together internationally.

The first full meeting of senior officials of all members in Geneva on 29 to 30 January 2020 agreed these terms of reference and a concluding statement.

The purpose of this document is to outline the structure and functioning of the Media Freedom Coalition (MFC) and complements the Global Pledge on Media Freedom. These terms of reference demonstrate the mutual understanding of its founding members that the structure and working methods of this Coalition should allow for strategic collaboration between members and relevant stakeholders.

The terms of reference is for internal use of MFC members and relevant stakeholders. It does not give rise to legal rights or obligations

Objectives and aims

1.1 The MFC is a partnership of countries working together proactively to advocate for media freedom, online as well as offline, and the safety of journalists and media workers2, and hold to account those who harm journalists and severely restrict them from doing their job. The Coalition was formed in July 2019 at the first annual Global Conference for Media Freedom in London at the initiative of the governments of the United Kingdom and Canada.

1.2 All members have signed the Global Pledge on Media Freedom. As signatories, each member has made the commitment to work together in taking action to improve the media freedom environment and the safety of journalists both at home and abroad.

Purpose

2.1 The purpose of the Coalition is expected to be to promote media freedom and advocate for the safety of journalists in both member and non-member countries by:

  • Raising individual cases and situations where those individuals practising journalism, as well as media organisations, have come under threat and encouraging fair trial guarantees and the reduction of cases of impunity;
  • Making collective statements, including in international fora;
  • Supporting members of the MFC and other countries to improve protections for the media, including identifying opportunities for use of the Global Media Defence Fund (GMDF) and other multi-donor funds;
  • Making collective diplomatic approaches where appropriate; and
  • Providing support and cooperation with organisations advocating for media freedom and the safety of journalists.

2.2 The MFC intends to build on the work of other media freedom initiatives and advance that work wherever possible.

References to ‘journalists’ in this text should be understood in the widest context, at times including media workers, bloggers and others involved in the production of news and media content.

2.3 As reflected in the Global Pledge, our countries are committed to speaking out and taking action collaboratively, through a coalition that intends to:

  • Make the case for the fundamental importance of media freedom for the security, prosperity and wellbeing of all societies;
  • Combine forces to share information, as appropriate, and take action on cases and situations where journalists and media organisations are at risk;
  • Shine a light on violations related to and abuses of media freedom, bringing them to the attention of the global public and working toward accountability
  • Stand together to intervene at the highest level with the governments of countries where media freedom is at risk, including when those governments are Coalition members, and to support countries that are taking active measures to improve respect for media freedom;
  • Consider all available measures to address violations and abuses of international human rights, including rights related to media freedom.

2.4 The MFC is committed to addressing the specific types of threats, intimidation and attacks faced by journalists, including women journalists and other targeted groups or individuals.

Membership

3.1 Membership to the MFC is open to all countries that sign up to the Global Pledge on Media Freedom, demonstrate active engagement and common desire, and support the objectives of the Coalition.

3.2 Any country that wishes to join the Coalition is expected to submit a request in writing to the co-Chairs.

3.3 Countries wishing to join the Coalition, will be assessed with consideration to the following:

  • Country’s record on media freedom, and the commitments they have made and demonstrated to promote and protect media freedom.
  • Views of the Executive Group of the Coalition.
  • Views of the Consultative Network to aid the process. Independent assessments offered by members of the Coalition’s Consultative Network.
  • Membership in good standing in other intergovernmental or multi-stakeholder initiatives focusing on democracy and human rights such as the United Nations Human Rights Council, the Community of Democracies, the Freedom Online Coalition, the Information and Democracy Partnership, and others.

3.4 The Co-Chairs will circulate the country’s candidacy and assessments from the Consultative Network to the Executive Group, which will review this information and provide a recommendation on the country’s candidacy.

  • If full consensus exists within the Executive Group to recommend the country for membership, the country’s candidacy, together with any other information the Executive Group deems relevant, will be sent to all members of the Coalition for the for a silence procedure of one month. Such a silence procedure is expected to be considered to be broken when at least one third of membership indicates an objection, in which case membership should be denied.
  • If full consensus does not exist within the Executive Group on the application and if the Executive Group does not recommend the candidate country for membership, the application will not be forwarded to other members of the Coalition for further consideration. Applicants will be informed of the outcome. Applicants may apply again at any point twelve months after an unsuccessful application.

3.5 A country can retract its application at any time during this process. All application-related information shall be treated with confidence.

3.6 Once the one-month silence procedure has successfully completed, the applicant country has up to 2 months further to sign the global pledge. The pledge can be signed by either a Minister or senior official with designated responsibility. Once signed the pledge should be sent and then either electronically sent to the co-chairs at capital or locally at embassy level as appropriate.

3.7 If a country decides unilaterally to withdraw from the Coalition, they should write to inform the co-Chairs who are expected to share the decision with the wider Coalition.

3.8 If a country does not adhere to the principles contained in the Global Pledge or fails to engage on or respond to enquiries from the Coalition on cases and/or situations of concern, then these actions can be reported in writing to the co-chairs of the Coalition by (1) any MFC member state, or (2) the MFC’s Consultative Network, acting through its co-chairs. 

3.9 In this situation the co-chairs will then consult on the country’s membership with the Executive Group. If there is consensus in the Executive Group, it will engage the country on the issue of their membership using the following process
a) The co-chairs and/or Executive Group will raise these concerns with the country in question, either verbally or in writing, and request a response within 3 months. The response should explain how the concerns will be addressed.
b) If a response is received within 3 months, the Executive Group will consider whether this response is acceptable in explaining how the concerns will be addressed.
c) If, in the view of the Executive Group, the country does not provide an acceptable response within 3 months the Executive Group will follow with section 3.10.
d) If the response is deemed acceptable by the Executive Group, the MFC will continue to review the media freedom situation in the country approximately every 3 months, focussing on whether the concerns are being or have been addressed. Reviews will continue until the concerns are addressed, or until the member has failed to address the concerns within a reasonable period of time.
e) If, in the view of the Executive Group, the concerns are addressed, then the process will conclude and the country in question will remain a member of the MFC. If, in the view of the Executive Group, the concerns are not addressed within a reasonable period of time, the Executive Group will follow with section 3.10.

3.10 If full consensus exists within the Executive Group to recommend a country be withdrawn from the MFC, the recommendation will be sent to all members of the Coalition for a silence procedure of one month. Such a silence procedure is expected to be considered to be broken when at least one third of the membership indicates an objection.

3.11 In the case of a rapidly deteriorating situation within a member state where urgent action is required, the co-chairs can, at either their decision or on request from any member state of the Coalition, seek an emergency ad hoc meeting of the Executive Group, or request an Executive Group decision via email, at the senior officials level to recommend the immediate dismissal of said member state. Should this recommendation be approved, the Executive Group will follow with section 3.10.

3.12 During the processes outlined in 3.8 – 3.11, the Executive Group may choose to pause the membership of the country in question with immediate effect. When a country’s membership is paused, it formally remains a member of the MFC, however the MFC does not engage this country in any Coalition activities and the country does not sign any joint statements. The Executive Group can also unpause membership with immediate effect. The co-chairs will inform a member in writing if their membership is paused or unpaused.

3.13 If a country is removed from the MFC, the co-chairs will inform this country in writing. A country that has been removed may apply to join the MFC again at a later date, in accordance with the process outlined in this Terms of Reference.

Structure

4.1 The MFC consists of the Executive Group, co-Chairs, and the wider Coalition.

The Executive Group

4.2 The Executive Group (EG) is a core group of governments, together with the Consultative Network.

  1. The EG is expected to have the principal responsibility for providing strategic direction to the Coalition, shaping the Coalition’s meetings and holding discussions on an ad hoc basis, including by identifying and presenting issues of concern to the broader membership.
  1. The EG is expected to draw on input from the Consultative Network and multilateral organisations to inform discussions by inviting the Friends of the Media Freedom Coalition to participate as observers in discussions of the EG or MFC. Three representatives chosen by the Consultative Network are expected to be invited to participate in meetings of the Executive Group. UNESCO and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights may also be expected to be invited to participate in such meetings. Other relevant governments, international or regional organisations or entities, including all relevant international mandate holders, may be invited to participate in meetings on an ad hoc basis and may be consulted to assist the EG’s work.
  1. Members of the Executive Group intend to serve for two years, with members rotating on an annual basis. Membership is expected to be decided by expressions of interest to the co-chairs and will be considered on a rolling basis. Consideration is expected to be given to geographical representation. The co-chairs will inform the MFC of the new membership of the Executive Group.
  1. Initial Members of the EG can be found at Annex 3.

Co-Chairs

  1. The Executive Group and Coalition is expected to be chaired by two countries, with one country retiring at the annual Ministerial meeting each year.
  1. Any MFC member that wishes to serve as co-Chair is expected to inform the current co-Chairs of its wish in writing by 1 September or as determined to enable confirmation at the annual Ministerial meeting each year. A full list of interested members is expected to be shared with the EG for information. . Countries will be expected to serve as co-Chair for two years and preferably represent different regional groupings.

4.3 The responsibilities of the co-Chairs include:

  • Organising, chairing and setting the agenda for Coalition and Executive Group meetings
  • Ensuring the participation of key stakeholders in relevant Executive Group meetings
  • Ensuring the necessary follow-up to Coalition and Executive Group meetings
  • Reporting annually on the MFC’s activities and accomplishments to the wider Coalition

Diplomatic Networks of the Media Freedom Coalition

  1. The Diplomatic Networks of the Coalition, as set out in the Global Pledge, is expected to include diplomats from Coalition countries at posts and at headquarters working together to promote media freedom through joint lobbying on cases, participating in activities designed to support journalists in-country or promoting best practice related to Media Freedom.

Wider Coalition

  1. The wider Coalition consists of all members of the MFC.
  2. Three representatives chosen by the Consultative Network may be invited to participate in meetings of the MFC.
  3. UNESCO and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, along with other international or regional organisations or other entities may be invited to participate in meetings of the MFC on an ad hoc basis.

Working methods

Meetings

5.1 The Coalition commits to meet annually at Ministerial level, to renew commitments and to address emerging threats and opportunities. In addition, Senior officials of the Coalition expect to meet at least twice per year and partake in teleconferences as necessary.

5.2 All members are expected to attend meetings. If the usual designated representative is unable to attend, they should send a suitably empowered deputy.

5.3 The Coalition intends to publicly highlight cases and situations where action needs to be taken, use diplomacy to push for systemic change, and show solidarity with countries that work to build on media freedom.

5.4 Through the Executive Group, the Consultative Network expects to identify cases which should be addressed through diplomatic intervention either publically or privately. The EG expects to discuss and decide on which of these cases to take forward to the wider Coalition.

5.5 All members of the Coalition intend to appoint a senior official and an official to act as point of contact for the work of the Coalition. As issues of concern emerge and cases are chosen, the co-Chairs (at official level) expect to reach out to points of contact of relevant members that have diplomatic officials on the ground who can help address the issue at hand, in collaboration with local stakeholders.

5.6 The configuration of Diplomatic Networks of the MFC actively engaged on situations of concern in-country is expected to vary from case to case.

5.7 Statements made by the Coalition should be made by consensus or, if consensus cannot be achieved, for example if the statement is regarding a case or situation of concern in a Coalition member state, be open to signature by association by smaller groups of members, issued by the co-Chairs on members’ behalf.

Peer to peer review and support

5.8 In the event of a serious incident threatening media freedom occurring in a Coalition country, this can be raised to the Executive Group in accordance with 3.8.

Relationship with relevant stakeholders

5.9 The MFC values the expertise and work of international organisations, relevant Special Rapporteurs, civil society organisations, practitioners, and other relevant stakeholders working to improve media freedom and the lives of journalists worldwide. A positive relationship and successful cooperation with such bodies is intrinsic to the effective delivery of our campaign initiatives.

5.10 Through the Executive Group, the MFC intends to actively pursue cooperation and input from the Consultative Network and existing multilateral bodies involved in the promotion of media freedom

Review

6.1 The Coalition may review the Terms of Reference as needed. Any amendments are expected to be adopted by consensus.

6.2 All members of the Coalition may initiate amendments to these Terms of Reference and should do so by writing to the co-Chairs.

6.3 The Consultative Network is expected to be informed of amendments to the Terms of Reference.

6.4 The Coalition is expected to conduct a comprehensive review of its objectives and purpose every five years.

6.5 Where there is a need to interpret the practical application of the Terms of Reference or any issue arising from them, this is expected to be done by the Executive Group.

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What is the MFC
The MFC is a global partnership of countries working together proactively to advocate for media freedom at home and abroad.