In the spirit of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted in Paris 70 years ago, we, Nobel and Sakharov Prize laureates, new technology specialists, former leaders of international organizations, lawyers and journalists, ask democratic governments to launch a political process in the coming year urging states to sign and endorse a Pledge on Information and Democracy. Our international Information and Democracy Commission, consisting of 25 prominent persons of 18 nationalities and meeting at the initiative of Reporters Without Borders (RSF), has drafted a Declaration that will provide democratic guarantees on information and freedom of opinion at this crucial moment in history.

We urge leaders of goodwill on all continents to take action to promote democratic models and an open public debate in which citizens can take decisions on the basis of facts. The global communication and information space, which is a common good of humankind, must be protected as such in order to facilitate the exercise of freedom of expression and opinion while respecting the principles of pluralism, freedom, dignity and tolerance, and the ideal of reason and knowledge. To this end, we ask for strong commitments to be expressed as early as 11 November, during the Peace Forum, when dozens of political leaders will gather in Paris.

World Press Freedom Index 2018
World Press Freedom Index 2018. Photo: Reporters Without Borders.

Political control of the press and media, the subjugation of news and information to private interests, online mass disinformation, the economic undermining of quality journalism, attacks and violence against journalists and the growing influence of corporate actors who escape democratic control all pose a danger to freedoms, civil harmony and peace. The “right to information,” meaning to reliable information, is fundamental for the development of our biological, psychological, social, political and economic capacities as human beings. Information can only be reliable if it is gathered, processed and disseminated freely, in accordance with the ideal of a commitment to the truth, a plurality of viewpoints and a rational method for establishing the facts.

The Declaration on Information and Democracy affirms that entities with a structural function in the information and communication space, that is entities that create technical means, architectures of choice and norms, such as online platforms, must respect fundamental principles. They must comply with the standards of freedom of expression and opinion and their processes must respect political, ideological and religious neutrality. They must guarantee pluralism, including by means of serendipity, and must establish mechanisms for promoting reliable information based on such criteria as transparency, editorial independence, use of verification methods and compliance with journalistic ethics. These entities with a structural function must be predictable for those over whom they have influence, resistant to manipulation and transparent to inspection.

hong kong journalists association press freedom
Photo: HKFP.

In this communication and information space, journalism’s social function is to be a “trusted third party” for societies, allowing everyone to fully participate in society. It is the role of journalists to report reality in the broadest, deepest and most relevant manner possible, describing not only events but also complex situations and changes, reflecting the positive and negative aspects of human activities and distinguishing the important from the trivial. The freedom and safety of journalists, the independence of news and information and respect for journalistic ethics are all essential conditions for the practice of journalism, regardless of the status of those who practise it.

In order to implement the Declaration on Information and Democracy, we believe that an international panel of experts on information and democracy should be created, similar to the IPCC with regard to climate issues. Its work would serve to guarantee the responsibility and accountability of all those with a structural function in the information and communication space, in order to respond to contemporary challenges, anticipate our common future and promote a development that is sustainable and takes account of the rights and interests of future generations.

Created at the initiative of Reporters Without Borders (RSF), the Information and Democracy Commission is chaired by Shirin Ebadi and Christophe Deloire. The commission’s rapporteur is Antoine Garapon, and its members are:

  • Emily Bell
  • Yochai Benkler
  • Teng Biao
  • Nighat Dad
  • Primavera De Filippi
  • Mireille Delmas-Marty
  • Christophe Deloire
  • Abdou Diouf
  • Can Dündar
  • Shirin Ebadi
  • Francis Fukuyama
  • Ulrik Haagerup
  • Hauwa Ibrahim
  • Ann Marie Lipinski
  • Adam Michnik
  • Eli Pariser
  • Antoine Petit
  • Navi Pillay
  • Maria Ressa
  • Amartya Sen
  • Joseph E. Stiglitz
  • Mario Vargas Llosa
  • Marina Walker
  • Aidan White
  • Mikhail Zygar

Reporters Without Borders/Reporters sans Frontieres (RSF) is a non-profit international organization that has been defending press freedom for more than 32 years. Thanks to a local network of correspondents investigating in 130 countries, 13 offices worldwide, and consultative status at the United Nations, we are able to have a global impact on defending press freedom and freedom of information.