International framework

In recent years, the international community has underlined the importance of including intercultural understanding, human rights and ethics in journalism education.


The UN World Programme for Human Rights Education


In 2004, the General Assembly of the United Nations proclaimed the World Programme for Human Rights Education (WPHRE) (2005-ongoing) to advance the implementation of human rights education programmes in all sectors of society. In 2015, journalists and media professionals were included in the World Programme’s third phase (2015-2019).1

Articles 39 and 40 read:

39. (…) media professionals and journalists play a fundamental role in the promotion and protection of human rights. Effective human rights education fosters their knowledge about, commitment to and motivation concerning human rights. Human rights principles provide essential guidance for their professional performance and the work of media outlets, which can only take place in an enabling environment in which access to information, freedom of expression and safety are protected.

40. All journalists should be given equal human rights training opportunities. Human rights-related content and values, with an emphasis on contextual specificities, should be part of any formal training and/or certification and should also be made available through opportunities for ongoing professional development. Whereas all journalists should have basic human rights literacy, specialized courses, such as on human rights reporting, should also be made available to them.


Plan of Action


The programme’s Plan of Action for the Third Phase is aimed at achieving the following specific objectives:

(b) For media professionals and journalists:
(i)  To highlight their role in the promotion and protection of human rights;
(ii)  To provide guidance on effective human rights training programming for media professionals and journalists;
(iii) To support the development, adoption and implementation of relevant sustainable training strategies;
(iv) To highlight the importance of enabling environments guaranteeing the protection and safety of media professionals and journalists;
(v) To facilitate support for human rights training for media professionals and journalists by local, national, regional and international organizations;
(vi) To support networking and cooperation among local, national, regional and international governmental and non-governmental institutions and organizations.



Issues related to journalism that are highlighted in international instruments 


Extracts from the Plan of Action for the Third Phase (2015-2019) of the World Programme for Human Rights Education: 


The Role of the Media in Democratic Societies and , in particular, in Promoting Human Rights, Peace, Democracy and Development 

35. Taken together, international instruments and documents highlight several issues related to journalism which States Members of the United Nations have emphasized. A first issue is the role of the media in democratic societies and, in particular, in promoting human rights, peace, democracy and development. Freedom of expression, including freedom to seek, receive and impart information through any media, as provided for in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (art. 19), is a necessary condition for the realization of participation, transparency and accountability, which are, in turn, essential for the promotion and protection of human rights; and a free, uncensored and unhindered press or other media is essential in any society to ensure freedom of expression. The Convention on the Rights of the Child highlights the role and responsibility of the mass media in disseminating information and material of social and cultural benefit to children, with due regard to the linguistic needs of children belonging to minority or indigenous communities (art. 17). The UNESCO Declaration states that mass media have an essential part to play in human rights education, particularly of young people, and can contribute effectively to counter “aggressive war, racialism, apartheid and other violations of human rights which are inter alia spawned by prejudice and ignorance” (art. III (2)). The International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination recognizes that effective measures in the fields of education, teaching, culture and information can combat prejudices that lead to racial discrimination (art. 7).


The Role of Diverse Media in the Realization of Cultural Rights 

36. States Members of the United Nations also recognize the role of diverse media in the realization of cultural rights. The UNESCO Recommendation on participation by the people at large in cultural life and their contribution to it highlights the role of the mass media as “instruments of cultural enrichment” owing in part to their role in the preservation and popularization of traditional forms of culture, and “by turning themselves into media for group communication and promoting direct participation by the people”. The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples recognizes the right of indigenous groups to establish their own media in their own languages; State-owned media should reflect indigenous cultural diversity and States should encourage privately owned media to adequately reflect it (art. 16).  


Respecting Human Rights while Performing their Functions

37. United Nations instruments also specify the responsibility of media professionals and journalists to respect human rights in performing their functions. International human rights law recognizes that the exercise of freedom of expression carries with it special duties and responsibilities and may be subject to certain restrictions, for example on security and defamation grounds, following strict tests of legality, necessity and proportionality, as well as in relation to other standards, such as the right to privacy or the prohibition of hate speech. The Human Rights Committee, among other mechanisms, has provided extensive jurisprudence and authoritative guidance on those issues.  


Protection and Safety of Journalists

38. A major issue of concern to the international community is the protection and safety of journalists. Both the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions and the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression have highlighted the many challenges faced by journalists in carrying out their work, for instance when covering street protests and demonstrations or reporting on politically sensitive issues, such as human rights violations. The Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders has also provided analysis and recommendations relative to selected groups of defenders at risk, including journalists and media workers. The Security Council has expressed deep concern and condemned the acts of violence and attacks in many parts of the world against journalists, media professionals and associated personnel in armed conflict. In numerous resolutions, the Security Council, the General Assembly and the Human Rights Council have condemned violence against journalists and called on Member States to ensure their protection, end impunity and prosecute those responsible. In conflict areas, journalists and media professionals enjoy specific protection under international humanitarian law.


Read more about the World Programme for Human Rights Education, including the Plan of Action, at the website of The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).  


Footnote: 1) The first phase (2005–2009) of the World Programme was dedicated to the integration of human rights education in the primary and secondary school systems. The second phase (2010–2014) was focused on human rights education in higher education and human rights training for teachers and educators, civil servants, law enforcement officials and military personnel at all levels. 

An online manual on intercultural understanding, ethics and human rights to be used by teachers and students in journalism education. Read more.

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