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The Role of Free Press in Promoting

Good Governance
Concept of Good Governance
United Nations Human Rights Council in its Resolution 2000/64 (as United Nations Commission on
Human Rights which it was formerly known as) identified the key elements of good governance. The
resolution highlighted these elements as involving: transparency, responsibility, accountability,
participation and responsiveness (to peoples needs).1 The Resolution 2000/64 also highlighted good
governance as essential to the protection of human rights and necessary for prompting growth and
sustainable human development.2

Human rights cannot be protected and respected in the absence of good governance. It is because
good governance provides enabling environment for the protection of human rights. This includes
the provision of requisite legislation, institutional framework and administrative processes which
respond to the needs and rights of the population.3

The Office of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (hereafter OHCHR), which works closely with
United Nations Human Rights Council, identified four elements as essential for good governance.
These include democratic institutions, rule of law, delivery of service to public by administrative
units and anti-corruption measures.4

From the perspective of human rights, good governance can be associated with rights and principles
outlined in international legal frameworks on human rights such as Universal Declaration of Human
Rights, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and International Covenant on Economic,
Social and Cultural Rights. Good governance in the context of Universal Declaration of Human Rights
is regarded as participatory government (Article 21) and a type of governance whereby the freedoms
and rights of people can be realized in accordance with the Declaration (Article 28).

International Covenant on Civil and Political rights and International covenant on Economic, Social
and Cultural Rights employed specific language about the role and duties of governments with
respect to protecting human rights. Article 2 of International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
outline the particular duty of state as:

Each State Party to the present Covenant undertakes to respect and to ensure to all
individuals within its territory and subject to its jurisdiction the rights recognized in the

1
Commission on Human Rights Resolution 2000/64: The Role of Good Governance in the Promotion of Human
Rights. <http://ap.ohchr.org/documents/E/CHR/resolutions/E-CN_4-RES-2000-64.doc> Accessed 1 Oct 2016
2
ibid
3
Smith, K. (2007) International human rights, New York: Oxford University Press
4
OHCHR (2016): Good Governance and Human Rights.
<http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Development/GoodGovernance/Pages/GoodGovernanceIndex.aspx>
Accessed 2 Oct 2016
present Covenant, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language,
religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. 5

The Article also makes it obligatory on the member states to afford effective remedy to those
individuals whose rights are being violated even if the violation stemmed from any conduct on part
of officials of the state.6

The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights on the other hand also makes it
obligatory on the signatory states to take such measures as are necessary for the enforcement of
rights enunciated in the Covenant. It prohibits discrimination of any kind in the enjoyment of such
rights.7

Free Press as Promoter of Good Governance


Free Press is essential to the protection and promotion of freedom of expression, thought and
conscience. It strengthens the accountability and responsiveness of the governments to citizens. It
offers a pluralist platform for expressing views independent of any coercion. Freedom of expression
is recognized as basic human right in various charters of human rights internationally e.g. Universal
Declaration of Human Rights (1948), American Convention on Human Rights, International Covenant
on Civil & Political Rights, European Convention on Human Rights, and African Charter on Human &
Peoples Rights.8

Article 18 of International Covenant on Civil & Political Rights declares that everyone has the right to
freedom of expression. The article states:

Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall in clude freedom to seek,
receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regard less of frontiers, either orally, in writing
or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.9

Article 14 of the Convention stipulates the exclusion of Press from trials on the basis of public
interest, morality and national security in a democratic state.10 This shows that free press is a
cornerstone of strengthening democracy in a democratic state.

The idea behind free press is to reduce censorship of expression and reduce governmental control
over information. This enables the public to hold the government accountable through journalistic

5
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations
on 19 December 1966 <https://treaties.un.org/doc/publication/unts/volume%20999/volume-999-i-14668-
english.pdf> Accessed 3 Oct 2016
6
ibid
7
International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Adopted and opened for signature,
ratification and accession by General Assembly resolution 2200A (XXI) of 16 December 1966
<http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/ProfessionalInterest/cescr.pdf> Accessed 4 Oct 2016
8
Norris, Pipa (2008): The Role of Free Press in Promoting Democratization, Good Governance and Human
Development in Section 2 of Media Matters: Perspectives on Advancing Governance and Development, ed. M.
Harvey, Global Forum for Media Development, Internews Europe, pp.66-75
9
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations
on 19 December 1966 <https://treaties.un.org/doc/publication/unts/volume%20999/volume-999-i-14668-
english.pdf> Accessed 3 Oct 2016
10
ibid
means. The journalists of independent newspapers and media houses facilitate accountability and
transparency of governance. Their role becomes like that of a watch-dog and also provide forum to
generate and display public opinion.11

Free press can also be regarded as a demarcation between democratic and authoritarian regimes.
The former enables the freedom of press whereas latter tightens control over content of press.
Authoritarian regimes are known for removing the content from press which question their policies.
Moreover, authoritarian regimes are also known for reviewing the information before it is being
released to masses. Such coercive measures confront publics ability to hold government
accountable and restrict the flow of information in the society.12

Free press compliments the idea of good governance by effectuating freedom of expression,
highlighting the response of masses and act as a journalistic means of holding the government
accountable. By highlighting the say of masses a free press not only realizes freedom of expression
but also becomes the source of assessment against governments performance. Moreover, due to
least (if any) interruption from government, the free press can give coverage to a wide array of
topics making it possible for the government to identify the gaps in governance. Therefore, free
press is crucial to the idea of good governance.13

Due to independence from ownership by state, free press is independent of any influence from the
government officials. This enables it to give maximum coverage to the response of masses. Such a
press then becomes the independent source of public assessment of officials conduct. This is then
helpful in identifying the gaps in governance. This compels the officials to improve the governance.
Therefore, free press has become a source for people to express their opinion freely on any subject
matter. Without free press it would be difficult to give effect to freedom of expression and achieve
good governance.

Free Press as protector of Human Rights


Since good governance involves the protection of human rights and free press is essential to
promoting good governance, therefore, free press is also inextricably linked to protection of human
rights. Free press is crucial to mobilizing NGOs working on human rights, dispense human rights
related information, strengthen democratic values and promote tolerance in the society.14 The
human rights NGOs and Free press assist each other in fight against violations of human rights. Such
NGOs serve as monitors of human rights violations whereas free press serves as dispensary of
information in this regard holding governments accountable by raising questions on violations.15

11
Goran Hyden, Michael Leslie and Folu F. Ogundimu. Eds. 2002. Media and Democracy in Africa. Uppsala:
Nordiska Afrikainstitutet.
12
Voltmer, Katrin (2013): The Media in Transitional Democracies. Wiley & Sons ltd
13
Rosenberry, J. and B. St. John III (Eds) (2010) Public journalism: the promise and reality of a citizen engaged
press, New York: Routledge
14
Apodaca, C. (2007) The whole world could be watching: Human rights and the media, Journal of Human
rights, 6: 147-164
15
Burton, G. (2005) Media and society: Critical perspectives, 2nd ed. Berkshire: Open University Press
In modern times the concept of free press not only includes professional journalists but also
citizens.16 The access to internet has made every citizen a potential reporter.17 Free press promotes
critical thinking, active learning, transparency and accountability which is essential to promoting
human rights and strengthening good governance.18

It is widely accepted that good governance and human rights are mutually related and supportive of
each other.19 Free press is important element with respect to good governance and human rights
because free press serves as a platform for accelerating public opinion to hold government
accountable for its breaches of human rights. It serves as the platform whereby public can raise its
voice against the human rights violations.20

Role of UNHRC in promoting Free Press


Recognizing the importance of free press in promoting human rights and strengthening good
governance, the UN Human Rights Council passed a resolution on 27th September 2012 highlighting
the safety of journalists as a fundamental factor of freedom of expression.21 The resolution called on
the member states to promote a safe and enabling environment for journalists to perform their
work independently and to ensure accountability through impartial, speedy and effective
investigations into violent acts against journalists.22 The resolution also called on the member states
to ensure safe atmosphere for journalists by introducing legislative measures in this regard and mass
awareness campaigns. The resolution also called on the member states to respect the freedom of
expression as their international human rights related obligation.23

The Human Rights Council is also contributing towards ensuring the freedom of press through its
Universal Periodic Review. The review involves reviewing the record of human rights in all member
states of United Nations every four years. It requires the states to declare before Human Rights
Council the measures they have taken to enhance the situation of human rights in the country to
fulfil their international human rights obligations.

The process of review involves the report submitted by the member states in accordance with
Human Rights Council Resolution 5/1 (2007) and also a separate and independent report by the
Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights (OHCHR). The Human Rights Council has also
called on member states to address the issue of safety of journalists through Universal Periodic

16
Heagreves, I. (2005) Journalism: A very short introduction, Oxford: Oxford University Press
17
Elliot, D. (2009) Essential shared values and the 21st century journalism, in Wilkins, L. Christians, G. (eds)
The handbook of mass media ethics, New York: Routledge
18
Burns, L. (2002) Understanding Journalism, London: Sage Publications
19
Freeman, M. (2002) Human rights, Cambridge: Polity Press
20
Whitten-Woodring, J. (2009) Watchdog or lapdog? Media freedom, regime type, and government respect
for human rights, International Studies Quarterly 53, 595-625
21
Resolution on the Safety of Journalists adopted at the 21st session of the UN Human Rights Council on 27
September 2012. The Human Rights Council.
<http://ipi.freemedia.at/fileadmin/uploads/media/Resolution_Safety_of_Journalists_-
_as_adopted_on_27_Sept_2012.pdf> Accessed 8 Oct 2016
22
ibid
23
ibid
Review.24 Therefore, the states now have obligation to include the measures taken towards safety of
journalists in their report towards Universal Periodic Review. This is the recent chief step taken by
the Human Rights Council in strengthening the idea of free press.

24
Resolution on the Safety of Journalists adopted at the 27th session of the UN Human Rights Council on 19
September 2014. The Human Rights Council.
<https://www.article19.org/data/files/medialibrary/37704/Journalists-Resolution-Draft-.pdf> Accessed 9 Oct
2016