The event which is taking place between the 20th and the 22nd of June in the former Federal Republic of Germany parliament building coincides with the 20th Anniversary of the approval of the decision to transfer the majority of the government functions to Berlin in the newly unified Germany.
Opening the conference and welcoming the over 1000 participants from 100 countries was Erik Betterman, the Director General of Deutsche Welle which is hosting the event in which Pressenza is among the organisations participating in the panels on the first day.
The conference inauguration continued with Jurgen Nimptsch, the Mayor of Bonn, referring to an Amnesty International report which highlights that Human Rights abuses are not just an issue in so-called Banana Republics, but in 157 countries of the world there is a failure to respect the rights enshrined in the UN declaration of Human Rights.
Talking about the dangers in some parts of the World the Mayor said, *“Journalists risk their lives everyday to defend human rights.”*
Angelica Schwall-Duren, the Minister for Federal Affairs, Europe and the Media in the State of North Rhein-Westphalia, referred to the day also being World Refugee Day. She remarked that 3% of the world’s population are refugees and noted that 500,000 people have fled Libya into neighbouring countries since the violence started and compared this to the hysteria being generated in Europe at the threat of 25,000 who have headed in the direction of Italy.
Following the opening remarks, four keynote speakers took the floor. Among them was Thorbjorn Jagland in his role as the Secretary General of the Council of Europe, but possibly more notable for his role as the Chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee. Without a hint of irony Jagland commended the decision of the Nobel Committee to award the 2010 prize to the Chinese activist Liu Xiaobo who is in prison, while carefully avoiding any mention of the 2009 prize awarded to Barack Obama. Jagland talked about the developments of new media and the moves to make access to the internet a human right.
Martin Kjaerum, Director of the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, spoke about the need to integrate human rights into European domestic policies, rather than constantly seeing human rights abuse as an issue that only happens on other continents, noting that in 1990 there were only 5 human rights bodies around the world and now there are more than 110.
Despite all the European talk of respect for human rights, Kjaerum highlighted 5 areas of concern: 1) in 6 countries of Europe, only 40% of Roma children attend primary school, 2) the conditions for people with disabilities in care homes, 3) the abuse of human rights suffered by LGBT people, 4) the conditions of migrants in detention centres, especially on the Greek/Turkish border, and finally 5) the rights to privacy and the dangers of so much personal data collection being constantly collected about private individuals.
The conference has many challenges to face and answers to find in the next days. In the field of Human Rights and the responsibility of the Media to defend them, the media has to ask itself how much meaning there is in human rights if news is a multinational business whose central reason is to make money? If the media is able to give 24 hour coverage to the Arab Spring, yet when hundreds of thousands of people march on the streets of Spain and it gets no more than a brief mention in the international media, what does this say about human rights?
If the mainstream news is all about reporting on which soccer player is sleeping with which TV celebrity what has happened to journalistic integrity?
if the role of the news media is to protect Human Rights, how can the media be independent and work with integrity and defend human rights if the world’s largest news corporations are either State media organisations at the service of a Government, or private businesses at the service of a financial system which demands profit at any cost to quality of journalism or ethics? Maybe, just as a Doctor takes the Hippocratic Oath to protect human life, a journalist, as part of their training, should take an oath to protect the UN declaration of Human Rights.