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PCHR Organizes Digital Dialogue Session on Freedom of Expression and Investigative Reporting

Ref: 24/2020

Date: 09 June 2020

 

Several experts and specialists emphasized the importance of promoting investigative journalism and training journalists on its standards according to the applicable laws, especially in light of the state of emergency declared in the occupied Palestinian territories (oPt). Participants in the dialogue session on “freedom of expression and investigative reporting ” organized by PCHR on Tuesday, 09 June 2020, stressed the importance of such a session in promoting awareness of this issue and called upon PCHR to enhance its awareness raising efforts on freedom of expression and its limitations.

The dialogue session was conducted via Zoom and broadcast live on Facebook, due to the state of emergency in the oPt in response to the global outbreak of coronavirus  (COVID‑19), with the participation of 18  journalists, activists and interested parties, due to.

The rights and restrictions related to the investigative journalism in international standards and domestic laws were the key themes of the dialogue session, which aimed to protect journalists and activists legal prosecution as a result of their journalistic work and to highlight the authorities’ violations of freedom of the press and investigative reports.

Nafez Al-Khaldi, PCHR’s Democratic Development Unit (DDU) researcher, moderated the session and welcomed the participants, stressing stressed the importance of investigative reports for revealing and clarfying corruption to the public and urged concerned authorities to follow up and investigate shortcomings and hold those responsible accountable in promotion of the principle of accountability.

Al-Khaldi pointed out that such investigations require primarily a democratic environment that protects the press and journalists from authorities overreach, and legal prosecution; as well as, the freedom to publish and access onformation. These invetigations also require societal awareness of their importance and impact on improving the services provided to citizens.

Dr. Tahsin al-Astal, Deputy Chairman of the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate, pointed out in his intervention on “Journalism ethics and investigative work controls,” that Palestinian journalists encounter exceptional circumstances due to the political conditions in the oPt, including the political division between Fatah and Hamas Movements, enactment of different laws and ligislations, and the Israeli occupation. Al-Astal also dissucued  the difficult reality of journalists’ work in light of the state of emergency declared by in the Palestinian Authority (PA) since March 2020. Al-Astal expressed his reservations regarding the emergency law, as it limits the ability of journalists to perform their duties freely and affects the freedom of the press, but at the same time al-Astal called on journalists to abide by the president’s decisions during the state of emergency.

Dr. Ahmed Hammad, Coordinator of the Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms (MADA), gave a presentation on the “Reality of investigative work in Palestine,” pointing out that investigative journalishas become an established form of journalism across the world, with an interntional body, ties, clubs and social incubators. Dr. Hammad considered that investigative journalism in Palestine is below par vis a vis its counterparts in the surrounding countries and the world, stressing that the political division has had a negative impact in this regard, as legislations and laws in the West Bank and Gaza Strip have negatively affected the media.

In another presentation on the “freedom of expression and legitimate restrictions on the freedom of journalistic work under international and national law,” Mr. Mohammed Abu Hashem, PCHR’s legal researcher, stressed that the freedom of expression is subject to restrictions under domestic and international  laws, more so some forms of expression must be banned such as the hate speech as stipulated in Articles (19) and (20) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), in which paragragh (3) of Article (19) authorized imposing restrictions on the freedom of expression; while Article (20) defined the restrictions that should be imposed on the freedom of expression. The Palestinian law included restrictions on the freedom od expression, which are considered restrictions on investigative work, especially in the Penal Code, in contexts related to the defamation crimes and crimes of stirring up racism. Journalists, therefore, should be empowered with knowledge to avoid legal accountability for their investigative work.

In the session, the participants engaged in discussions and posed questions that enriched the dialogue on the freedom of expression and investigative reporting. The pariticpants’ interventions were related to the available means of protection for citizens’ freedom of expression in light of the current state of emergency. The participants also enquired about the role of the Palestinian Journalists’ Syndicate and PCHR in protecting investigative journalists.