Examination of witnesses (Questions 598
TUESDAY 12 MAY 1998
SMART and MR
Mr Smart and Mr Carver,
may I welcome you on behalf of the Committee with an apology for
the delay in starting as we had some private business to conclude
before we were able to start the meeting this morning. Before
we get any further, I would like to ask Mrs Bottomley to begin
598. Good morning. I hoped you could tell
us just a little more about your organisation. It started in 1986
but could you tell us how you are funded, about the board composition
and any particular links either with political parties or movements
and the degree to which you are rooted in which particular countries?
(Mr Smart) Article XIX started in 1986. It came
about through the initiative of a number of people, particularly
the late Martin Ennals, who had been secretary general of Amnesty
International and who was involved in forming a number of organisations.
We are an international human rights organisation with our headquarters
in London. We have also a regional office for Southern Africa
in Johannesburg. Our funding comes from a wide variety of sources:
private foundations, but largely government or quasi-government
funding through the European Commission, through organisations
like the Swedish International Development Agency. We get some
funding from the Dutch Foreign Ministry. Much of this is project
based. We put forward particular projects related to freedom of
expression either in a specific country context or sometimes on
a more thematic approach because, in our work, we do not so much
work as a number of freedom of expression organisations do on
individual cases, although we will take action on some of those;
we try to look at the difficult policy areas that come with freedom
of expression, both those legitimate areas of restriction of freedom
of expression that are permissible under international law, but
which sometimes are quite hazy in practice. Also, where the right
to freedom of expression may be seen to be in conflict with other
rights and again where some of those dividing lines are quite
difficult, the area of hate speech being one example there. We
have tried to do quite a bit of policy thinking. Our international
board is very much international and representative of all of
the regions. Until quite recently, our chairman was William Shawcross,
the distinguished journalist. He has recently stood down and we
have another British journalist, Rosemary Righter, as our new
chairman, but our board is representative of all regions of the
Sir Peter Emery
599. What is your total annual income?
(Mr Smart) Our total annual income is something
over £1.4 million.
600. How closely do you relate to the British
Government, the Foreign Office in particular? Do they work closely
with you on matters of common concern?
(Mr Smart) Yes, I would say so. One point I would
like to make is that over the past year we have certainly seen
a marked warming or a greater openness from the Foreign Office
to discussing some items with us, trying to draw on our expertise
and also to share some thinking with us and with other NGOs. That
has been a welcome step. One example of that is we were consulted
on the mandate for the OSCE freedom of the media representative
and we made some input into that. That was a useful opportunity
for us. Obviously, there was a government to government negotiation
within the OSCE going on but it was good to feel that we could
make some small contribution to that process.
601. And that is new?
(Mr Smart) That is new. There were certainly briefings
between the Foreign Office and the NGO community in relation to
the UN Human Rights Commission and so on in the past. There has
been a warming of approach and certainly at the official level
the enhancement of the role of the Human Rights Policy Department
has been apparent.
602. Your normal entry point then would
be at the Human Rights Policy Department?
(Mr Smart) That would be our normal key entry
point but, on specific countries, we would also have quite a lot
of collaboration and consultation with the regional desks and
sometimes we meet new ambassadors or High Commissioners before
they are taking up their posts so that we can talk to them about
media freedom issues that we are concerned about in the countries
to which they will be accredited. One example is the current ambassador
to Indonesia who visited our office for some useful discussions
before he took up his post. My colleague had a recent Foreign
Office meeting with Mr Penfold, High Commissioner to Sierra Leone,
who is now quite well known.
603. That is part of a programme arranged
by the Foreign Office for relevant diplomats?
(Mr Smart) Yes.
604. Are there any things which you would
expect from the Foreign Office which you are not getting?
(Mr Smart) In terms of policy areas, while we
have some commendatory things to say about warming over the past
year, there are some areas of policy where we feel the UK government
should be pushing forward. Maybe we can come on to those. In terms
of the general relationship, I think it is quite good but we want
to see how it develops. We would like to see increasing consultation
and collaboration, recognising that we are looking at situations
from quite different perspectives.
605. You, understandably, are the lobbying
organisation, and a very worthy one. No lobby gets 100 per cent
of what it would like. So far as British posts overseas are concerned,
how do you relate to those?
(Mr Smart) Again, if we have a delegation visiting
a country, then we may or may not seek out contacts. It depends
on the individual circumstances. To give one very positive experience,
I was recently in Belarus and there the ambassador, Jessica Pearce,
was extremely helpful in arranging a meeting for me and my colleague
with a range of other western representatives. Belarus is a country
where there are very significant media freedom issues, as you
will be aware, so it was quite useful to have that exchange and
also with the new OSCE permanent representative in Belarus who
was invited to that meeting.
606. If an incoming government wishes to
improve its legislation and its practices in terms of press freedom,
would you give technical advice and assistance to that incoming
government? Can you give examples of that? If a government wished
to have a better performance in terms of press freedom than its
predecessors, they were not sure how best to go about it and were
looking for some advice and assistance, is that an area where
you would operate?
(Mr Smart) Very much. Our work breaks down on
the one side to documentation bearing witness about situations
of censorship and the implications and so on. On the other side,
it has a much more constructive and long term component. We spend
quite a lot of our time and effort lobbying individual governments
to make changes through communications, through meetings and through
visits to countries and so on, but also we try to have a cross-fertilisation
and facilitation role. I will pass to Richard Carver, if I may,
in a moment, and he can maybe give you one example of how we work
with the Law Commissioner in Malawi, where we try to contribute
to a process of legal and institutional reform which certainly
does have political support.
607. Mr Carver is head of your Africa Programme.
Perhaps you could give that one example?
(Mr Carver) We were very active on freedom of
expression issues in Malawi, documenting abuses and campaigning
internationally under the previous government of Dr Banda, as
a consequence of which we established quite close relations with
the new constitutional order when it came in, in 1994. One of
the particular areas that the new government and the Law Commissioner
wanted to look at was reviewing laws relating to the media and
freedom of expression, to bring them into conformity with the
new constitution. We have made two major, very detailed submissions,
one on broadcasting law and one on other law relating to the media,
on the basis of which the Law Commissioner has drafted a new Communications
Bill and I think other legislation will be in the pipeline. I
would stress though that I am not sure whether this would strictly
speaking fall under the heading of technical assistance. This
was funded by the European Commission. We do not ever put ourselves
in the position where we would be unable, because of a contract
with the government, to criticise anything that we were unhappy
about in their human rights records. We certainly continue to
criticise where we think there have been problems in Malawi. Indeed,
we have some problems with the new Communications Bill as drafted
and we feel free to express those publicly.
608. I have always thought media freedom
was an integral part of the whole concept of good governance.
It should be seen as a vital ingredient in the whole of the pitch
for good governance. Are you happy that in either British governments,
the European Commission or the European Union or even the Commonwealth
or others that concepts of media freedom are built in now as a
fundamental, integral test of criteria for achieving such a principle?
(Mr Carver) I think it varies with different multilateral
bodies. For example, with the Commonwealth, I think this is still
a serious problem. The question of freedom of expression and media
freedom is not mentioned in the Harare Declaration and I think
there is an urgent need to make that a central part of the human
rights criteria by which Commonwealth governments are measured
in the future. It probably occupies a more central part in the
work of the European Union, but there again perhaps it assumes
a different weight in different institutions of the European Union.
We have very close relations with our funders in the Commission,
who clearly regard this as fairly central and the Parliament also
places a lot of emphasis on these things. There tends to be a
slightly more pragmatic attitude sometimes on the part of the
Council of Ministers in not making that quite such a central issue.
609. On the Commonwealth front, it is very
important that you have drawn to our attention that it is not
an integral part of the Harare Declaration. Clearly, you would
be campaigning or making submissions to that effect: that it should
be much more part of the Commonwealth initiative. Can I turn to
the European Union and its position? At least in the case of the
European Union, it has applicant states and therefore it has a
handle. From your reading and detailed assessment of the Commission's
reports on all the applicant states, was media freedom considered
to be an integral part of the conditional test of all applicant
states and how many of them passed it?
(Mr Smart) I think it is definitely an element
there. I must say I have not read in detail the reports on the
applicant states, but media freedom I think is regarded as a key
component. We see this also with the OSCE system with Belarus,
for example, not being admitted entry. At the same time, what
we also try to draw attention to, both within the Council of Europe
framework and to European governments, is that a number of states
that are in the Council of EuropeCroatia and Turkey would
be examplesare consistently being found, in Turkey's case,
by the European Commission and the Court to be responsible for
abuses of media freedom. One can see, in a number of other countries
such as Croatia, the existence of legislation and prosecutions
which are quite out of line with landmark judgments that have
been laid down by the European Court, for example, on the question
of criminal defamation.
610. We have court decisions against certain
(Mr Smart) What we have within the European system
is a much more developed tradition, if you like, of judicial pronouncement
where obviously, under the European Convention of Human Rights,
this allows for certain restrictions on freedom of expression.
The court has played the role of restricting the area of restriction,
in a sense, of narrowing down the definitions. Therefore, for
example, in a number of landmark judgments, it has held that politicians,
by the nature of their trade, must expect to tolerate a greater
degree of criticism and even abuse than the ordinary private citizen.
Yet one sees in a number of states a retention of laws which cover
insult to the president and this type of thing, which are definitely
used to target critical media. Therefore, clearly, those states
know that it will take a long time before all domestic remedies
have been exhausted and those cases can then be brought before
the European Commission and Court. They can look ahead to continuing
to control the media in this way and therefore, where is the political
leverage, is our question, by the partner governments within the
regional network, the Treaty partners, to say, "There are
these European Court decisions. You are not abiding by your obligations"?
Once in, there is a sense that the leverage is lost, to a certain
611. Have you any recommendations to the
Committee on how to deal with these issues?
(Mr Smart) We have been talking with the Human
Rights Policy Department about holding some sort of seminar where
we might bring some people over from central and eastern Europe
to look very much at to what extent are states that have been
admitted within the Council of Europe and the OSCE structure abiding
by the media freedom requirements that, by becoming Treaty partners,
they entered into. Quite clearly, there is a deficit there.
612. Do I gather that you, as an organisation,
are not a media watch and do not analyse the individual performance?
You do not have, for example, detailed information on these applicant
states and on the way they behave in the media?
(Mr Smart) We have limited resources so we obviously
define our country priorities. Certainly where there are countries
with very significant media freedom problems, we give closer attention
to those within the European structure. Those on the inner run
now for joining the Union have lesser problems at the moment.
613. Can you move from Europe, OSCE and
the Council of Europe to Europe in relation to Africa, the Pacific
and the Caribbean? Do you find that, under LOME, agreements exercise
leverage through conditionality in terms of press freedom?
(Mr Carver) The performance is patchy. A country
that concerns us particularly at the moment, where we feel that
Europe has lost the opportunity or not exercised the opportunity
for leverage is Kenya, a situation which has been extremely grave
for much of the time since the transition to multiparty rule in
1991. Attacks on the independent media and restrictions on private
ownership of broadcast media have been features of that and, if
you like, an early warning sign of other, even more serious things
going onfor example, the violence taking place at the moment
in the Rift Valley and taking place last year, before the elections,
on the coast. The emphasis of the international community generally
has been, as far as we can tell, very largely on the corruption
issue which is a question which certainly needs to be addressed.
That issue also ties in with the role of the media, but the broader
questions of media freedom and human rights have not really been
the subject of consensus among Kenya's European partners. We certainly
feel that the British Government has been one those which has
been particularly backward in pushing these concerns, both the
previous and the present government. That would be an example
where we feel that there has been a problem. In other cases, the
performance has been betterperhaps Nigeria, but even on
Nigeria the Council of Ministers actually relaxed its sanctions
against Nigeria at the very moment when the military government
was pushing through its own version of the transition programme
in the post-Commonwealth Summit period and mounting ever more
serious attacks on the media.
Sir John Stanley
614. Mr Smart and Mr Carver, have you read
the government's first Human Rights Report?
(Mr Carver) Yes.
(Mr Smart) Yes.
615. You will have noticed then that just
one page is devoted to the issue of freedom of expression which
is a combination of generalities, which I am sure we all endorse,
but in terms of specifics there is reference to Cameroon and a
reference to the former Yugoslavia and nothing more than that.
Are you satisfied with that or would you wish something very much
more positive to emerge in future human rights reports?
(Mr Smart) We are very satisfied that the government
should have made a commitment to publish an annual human rights
report but, no, we would see this as very much, I hope, only a
first attempt. I was at your meeting a week ago where I believe
I heard Mr Lloyd promise that the only commitment was to continue
to produce an annual report. We would like to give some thought
as to making suggestions to the Foreign Office as to how they
might give much more clear, coherent and broader coverage of freedom
of expression and media freedom issues in future reports, because
this year's is, as you say, a very slight coverage.
616. In relation to the British Government's
policy, I think you make an extremely valuable proposal in your
paper that the British Government should be thoroughly proactive
within the Commonwealth and try to see that the Harare Declaration
is supplemented by clear provisions on freedom of expression.
Is the present government being supportive about that or is it
just being agnostic about it? How do you find that proposal is
going with the present government?
(Mr Carver) We understood, before the Edinburgh
Summit, that there was some interest from the government in pushing
the idea of a freedom of expression declaration. I suspect that
this got overtaken perhaps by more immediate issues that came
up at that Summit. We certainly felt and continue to feel that
some sort of mechanism is needed within the Commonwealth that
applies to all members. We welcomed the expansion of the CMAG
mandate but the problem with that is it still singles out a small
number of particularly bad performers rather than requiring all
Commonwealth members, as a condition of membership, to continue
to adhere to the principles in the Harare Declaration. We think
those principles have to be made rather more concrete so that
adherence to them can be measured. It has to be applied across
the board. We were very disappointed at the March meeting of CMAG
that no discussion, as far as we could understand, took place
on any countries other than the three countries already within
the CMAG mandate, so that other countries such as Kenya, Cameroon
and Zambia, which were the particular ones that we had raised
with CMAG, were not considered. We understand from Mr Lloyd that
he did raise at least the question of Cameroon, which we very
much welcomed, within that and indeed that is one of the examples
that is reflected in the Human Rights Report. We welcome the active
role that the government seems to be taking on Cameroon. That
has to be broadened out. It cannot be a matter of singling out
particular countries; it has to be applying those principles to
all Commonwealth members.
(Mr Smart) We have seen a process with the Commonwealth
of the Commonwealth rather reluctantly taking on more and more,
focusing on human rights issues with the Nigeria problem, the
creation of CMAG. Our sense is that there is still an in-built
reluctance, that this will possibly disturb the club; yet in other
fora one can see the UN special rapporteur on freedom of opinion
and expression very much under-resourced. Certainly one of our
recommendations to the Foreign Office is that, if some resources
can be given to helping that mechanism, it will be useful. We
see now that OSCE and the Inter American Commission both have
media freedom rapporteurs. Many Commonwealth countriessome
are in Africa; some are in Asiahave no regional mechanisms
of this sort. Indeed, not only a declaration on freedom of expression
I think would be a useful addition to the Harare Declaration but
some thought also would then need to be given to a mechanism that
can translate that resolution into real effect and give some assistance
to Commonwealth governments in meeting the obligations that, in
a sense, they have already entered into under Harare, a significant
number of which they are failing.
617. Obviously at CMAG Britain is just one
of the other countries and therefore you would have to lobby the
other countries as well.
(Mr Smart) Yes.
(Mr Carver) We do indeed do that.
618. You have referred to the sparse coverage
given to media freedom in this first report of this administration.
I do not seem to recall many reports produced by the last administration
which dealt in a comprehensive way with media freedom. I would
agree with you that the coverage is, if you like, somewhat sparse
but what about the reports of other nations? Do they give more
coverage to this important issue? Have you read the most recent
American annual report? What about the Irish Government's report
of the work of its Foreign Office? Is there a country's report
which should serve as a benchmark for this administration and
which country is that?
(Mr Smart) It is very difficult to say. I am certainly
familiar with the US State Department reports. I think the Foreign
Office has made it clear all the way along and recently repeated
that they did not want to go for something similar to the State
Department's report. That contains much more detailed information
about countries' practices in terms of freedom of expression and
media freedom. As I understand it, the Foreign Office approach
is that they were seeking in this report to report more on their
activities rather than their assessment of other countries, which
I think is itself valid. I am not familiar with the Irish report.
I am not sure there is an off the shelf model that one can take.
619. I did not say "an off the shelf
model"; I said a benchmark. Is there, for example, a Member
State of the European Union that deals with this very important
issue in a more comprehensive and, to your mind, a more satisfactory
way than it has been dealt with by previous administrations here
or by the present Foreign Office team?
(Mr Smart) Not to my knowledge, no. I may be wrong
but I am not familiar with any report by European governments
addressing media freedom issues in a comprehensive way.