A compelling case for an International Press Tribunal

The ideal organisation needs to investigate violations of press freedom globally and take action, unlike the current practice of just ranking countries on an annual basis and issuing statements of condemnation.

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For example, currently there is no provision for the benefit of victims of crimes against journalists such as the bombing of the Daily News printing press which resulted in mass unemployment, distress and even breakdown of families due to unemployment and stress.

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It is being suggested in this paper that there be an International Press Tribunal, more or less structured along the lines of the International Criminal Court minus its bureaucracy and voluntary membership. The ideal tribunal should be compulsory or automatic within the confines of international law e.g. membership of the UN should mean acceptance of its jurisdiction on all matters of human rights including press freedom. In my view no member-state of the United Nations should be exempt from the jurisdiction of  UN-related bodies like the ICC and in this particular instance the International Press Tribunal.

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No country in the UN should be allowed to say, because we have not ratified that treaty, therefore we are not involved like the present case with some mass murderers left on the loose by the ICC because their countries have not ratified the ICC convention. The suggested IPT should be something with teeth and really bites not just snarl!

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How the new system could work

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To save money and other resources the IPT could use secure online voting by accredited journalists to grade countries and classify persecutors of journalists (POJ) and show the duration e.g. POJ10 meaning persecutor of journalists for the past ten years. I know that press freedom is very controversial but as it is a human right it has its own responsibilities too.

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Zoning of countries

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Countries could be zoned by the IPT based on a standard criteria that assesses press freedom e.g. press censorship, violence against the press, harassment of journalists, risk of abduction, threats, disappearance without trace, arrests, physical attacks; stalking by state agents, torture and/or being killed; impunity of perpetrators; exorbitant accreditation fees, unjustified confiscation of press cards, arbitrary expulsions, denial of visas and or work permits, victimisation; no recourse to appeal and so on.

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States which are friendly to journalists or press freedom, could be graded Green, being the best or ideal work environment; Orange would be associated with a lot of checks and the probability of arrests but with access to legal representation and incarceration in filthy prisons but still survive, and finally Red, being untenable, with nearly everything that erodes press freedom including extra-judicial targeting of institutions and individual journalists for harassment and terror, break-ins, theft of computers, hard-drives and servers, a high risk of censorship, confiscation of material, abduction, disappearance without trace, arrest without access to legal representation, torture and/or being killed.

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Penalties for countries

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  • Naming or labelling of countries based on their press freedom record in news reporting e.g. “The Red Republic of Diamondia is hosting an international seminar on patriotic editing skills;”
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  • Isolation e.g. not inviting the Red Republic of Diamondia and its government leaders to international gatherings of Green countries!
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Penalties for Individuals

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Penalties could involve naming and shaming Persecutors of Journalists (POJ) regardless of rank in news coverage e.g. “The President of the Red Republic of Diamondia, H.E. Mr Vote Rigger, POJ20 has visited …” Or “The Minister of XYX of the Red Republic of Diamondia Mr/Dr/Prof/Mrs …POJ10 has today opened a workshop…”  

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Isolation would involve not inviting for example the Minister of Bad Mornings, Mr Reporters Nightmare, POJ10 to a banquette hosted by the Ambassador of a Green  Republic/ country. An asset freeze and a travel ban would be strengthened by not allowing offending individuals travel on private and public owned means of transport of Green countries e.g. aeroplanes, trains, buses, taxis, ships etc.

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One disadvantage of this suggestion is the general reluctance to change as the present is always considered better than the unknown, no matter how unbearable the status quo is. 

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Advantages

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·         More effective than just condemnations as currently in practice;

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·         Swifter – does not need resolutions at the UN Security Council;

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·         Simpler and easier to administer, no bureaucracy involved;

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·         Only the culprit will suffer instantly;

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·         No possibility of busting e.g. for a POJ from a Red country finding his or her way into a Green country or function uninvited;

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·         Better than the ICC which takes ages to prosecute for crimes against humanity e.g. Vietnam’s former dictator may not live to hear his sentence;

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·         With good co-ordination, the system will work as long as it receives legal authority in the same way countries and leaders are ranked on the Worldwide Press Freedom Index.

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·         Penalties for countries and individuals could remain in force until real contrition is demonstrated. 

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The current system of safeguarding journalists’ welfare does not seem effective as it is just ignored with impunity by dictators and their cronies. That should stop.

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