The MFC’s Diplomatic Networks Initiative protects and promotes media freedom through coordinated action by MFC members’ diplomatic missions, in collaboration with journalists and civil society, and sometimes the national government, in various countries.
2022 was the first full year of this initiative and has seen diplomatic missions organizing events, facilitating dialogue, and making public statements, among other activities.
This article provides some highlights from this work, focusing on activities that have been made public in selected countries. Given the sometimes-sensitive nature of media freedom and the safety of journalists, it is not possible to publicly share all of the missions’ activities.
When a prominent journalist and broadcaster was killed in the Philippines last October, embassies of Media Freedom Coalition member states were quick to react – releasing a statement on Twitter the very next day expressing grave concern and urging the authorities to bring the killers to justice.
The statement quickly gained traction, being picked up by multiple media outlets in the Philippines (see CNN coverage here) and accumulating over 1000 retweets within days. The embassies received positive feedback about this from journalists and civil society.
How was this statement so quick? In this case, the strategy was to put out a prompt statement from the embassies of MFC co-chairs Canada and the Netherlands first, and then ask other MFC members’ embassies to amplify it – which many did, including France, Denmark, and the UK. The EU’s mission also amplified. Embassies have since used this approach to react to the recent acquittal of Maria Ressa in a tax case.
In 2022 the British embassy also hosted its annual Media Freedom Reception – a coming-together of journalists, government officials, the diplomatic community and key stakeholders for the protection and promotion of media freedom.
The reception was temporarily halted by the pandemic, but returned in November 2022 with the theme of honouring media freedom as well as the BBC centenary.
British Ambassador Laure Beaufils, Dutch Ambassador Marielle Geraedts, BBC Senior Asia Correspondent Laura Bicker, and Filipino journalist Howie Severino, delivered speeches highlighting the importance of protecting and promoting media freedom in the Philippines.
Among the journalists attending was Marjohara Tucay of the news platform AlterMidya. Ms Tucay said the event meant more than a gathering to her as it kickstarted pressing conversations and united Philippine newsrooms on how they can move forward in pushing for press freedom in their country.
She said: “The conversations enabled more collaborations that we hope will lead to successful campaigns in the coming months. We value our invitations to the Media Freedom Reception, as it’s a form of recognition that community journalists exist and continue to persist in the Philippines.
“Being allowed to be part of the national conversation speaks volumes of how community journalists are no longer rendered invisible on the global stage.”
At the end of the reception, attendees were able to map out a way forward on issues such as campaigning to decriminalize libel, fighting mis- and disinformation, and ensuring the physical and digital safety of Filipino journalists.
In Bangladesh, MFC member missions participated in a round table discussion on media freedom and human rights, hosted by the UN Resident Coordinator’s office in Dhaka. Bangladesh’s Minister of Information also took part and addressed the meeting, while the Swiss Ambassador spoke about the media freedom environment in Switzerland.
Attendees discussed how Bangladesh’s media sector had developed in recent years, approaches to human rights reporting, and perspectives from other parts of the world. Feedback from journalists in attendance was positive, with one expressing a hope for further dialogue.
In Mexico, MFC member missions organised a seminar on the reform of laws relating to the protection of human rights defenders and journalists. Journalists working in exile were invited to share their experiences via a video link. Later in 2022, the embassies of Canada and the Netherlands created a social media campaign to mark the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists, including a video in which journalists from Mexico explained what freedom of expression meant to them.
Slovakia – a member of the MFC – has shown how a national government can collaborate with embassies of other MFC member countries. To mark the third anniversary of the MFC, embassies of Canada and the Netherlands collaborated with the government of Slovakia to write an op-ed paying tribute to all journalists who have lost their lives in the line of duty and honouring the courage of journalists and media workers. The Dutch and Canadian embassies also helped organise a TV discussion on the safety of journalists, to mark the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists.
During 2023, the MFC Secretariat will be working with more MFC member countries, and their embassies, to kickstart more targeted activities in places where they are needed.