Changing global policy to ensure the protection of journalism by means of political and legal safeguards and education

Submitting Institution

University of Sheffield

Unit of Assessment

Communication, Cultural and Media Studies, Library and Information Management 

Summary Impact Type


Research Subject Area(s)

Studies In Human Society: Political Science
Law and Legal Studies: Law
Studies In Creative Arts and Writing: Journalism and Professional Writing

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Summary of the impact

The Centre for Freedom of the Media (CFOM) at the University of Sheffield is among a core group of expert organisations helping to shape the work programmes of UN agencies, the Council of Europe and other IGOs, to put in place effective measures to safeguard free and independent media as well as journalists' physical safety against violence and judicial harassment and interference. CFOM research has played a prominent part in consultations leading to the adoption in 2012 of the UN Action Plan on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity, the purpose of which is to ensure better protections for the investigative work of journalists worldwide. As a close partner of UNESCO in the implementation of the UN Action Plan (2013-14), CFOM participates actively in monitoring, evaluation and follow-ups, assists the UN and other authorities to uphold international law, and is pioneering work to promote curriculum development relating to these issues.

Underpinning research

CFOM conducts research about the essential civil role of free media in society and the nature of serious threats to journalists and independent journalism. It applies its expertise to the development of public policies and legal and political frameworks for safe environments for journalism throughout the world. CFOM was established in 2008 by Professor Jackie Harrison (University of Sheffield, since 1996) with William Horsley, former BBC news correspondent and Media Freedom Representative of the Association of European Journalists, and Jock Gallagher, former executive director of the Association of British Editors and founder chair of the UK Press Freedom Network. CFOM's work and rationale drew upon Harrison's research into increasing political interference across Europe in the civil freedoms of investigative public service news journalism and the use of regulation and law to curb freedom of expression. Harrison's research at CFOM brings together six related research themes:- [1] The justifications and significance of freedom of expression, particularly freedom of speech as a contested constitutional right or principle; the civil and democratic role of journalism and the importance for the functioning of democratic and pluralistic societies of balancing the protection of freedom of expression rights with the need for news media standards and accountability; and the threats that can arise from use or misuse of law and regulatory intervention. [2] The positive and negative parts played by European and member state broadcasting law and policy with regard to: a) the use of neo-liberal economic policy across the single market and the use of regulation and law to curb freedom of expression, b) the increasing elevation of commercial over cultural criteria in European media policy and, related to that, c) the ownership and control of media capital, the public/private use of media infrastructures and the restrictions on the development of mature pluralist media landscapes. [3] The architecture and civil power of the news with regard to the role and responsibility of news media in civil society and democracy, and the imposition of constraints (technological, regulatory, commercial and political) on investigative news accuracy, truthfulness and freedom of expression. [4] The special value attached to quality public service news media and norms of media independence and responsible professional conduct, arguments for and against public service broadcasting and communications and its `merit good status,' the role of public service communication in civil society and the restrictions placed (and proposed) on new forms and models of public service communication. [5] The important role that the institutional news media play in shaping a civil/public sphere in terms of public sentiment, public deliberation, democratic value and civic participation. [6] The vital role that is played by journalism education in strengthening a free, independent and pluralistic media and the establishment of responsible, accountable news journalism.

References to the research

R1. Amos, M., Harrison, J. and Woods, L (eds.) (2012) Freedom of Expression and the Media, Nijhoff, Law Specials Vol. 79, Leiden. Boston: Martinus Nijhoff. The book was the product of a one-day conference: `Freedom of Expression and the Media', sponsored by the Clemens Nathan Research Centre (April 2009, with Essex University). Harrison was lead editor of the papers, and single author of a chapter (pp169-188).

R2. Harrison, J. and Woods, L. (2007) European Broadcasting Law and Policy, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (submitted to RAE2008).

R3. Harrison, J. (2006) News, London: Routledge (submitted to RAE2008).

R4. Harrison, J. (2010a) `The Development of a European Civil Society through EU Public Service Communication' in Papathanassopoulos, S. and Negrine, R. (eds.) Towards a Theory of Communication Policy, London: Palgrave Macmillan pp 81-94 (submitted to RAE2008).

R5. Harrison, J. and Wessels, B. (eds.) (2009) Mediating Europe: new media, mass communications and the European public sphere, Oxford: Berghahn Books.


R6. Harrison, J. `Critical Foundations and Directions for the Teaching of News Journalism' Journalism Practice, (2007) 1(2) June pp 175-190. The journal is an international anonymous peer reviewed journal.


Details of the impact

CFOM has substantially assisted the efforts led by UNESCO (Communications & Information Sector), the UN agency mandated to promote freedom of expression, to give effect to the UN Action Plan on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity (endorsed on 22-23 November 2012), as an international framework for a safe and enabling environment for the exercise of the right of free expression. Sheffield research has generated specific impact in three areas:

A) Engaging professionals and policy-makers to stimulate debate

CFOM's problem-solving conferences/symposia have brought together IGOs, NGOs, UNESCO, academics, large media houses, lawyers, academics and representatives from national and international politics to highlight the need for greater protection of journalists around the world and the need for a UN Action Plan.

CFOM hosted its official launch event, Twenty Years after the Fall of the Berlin Wall: What Became of Press and Political Freedoms? in February 2009 at Chatham House, London. Drawing on the findings of the underpinning research, the conference raised awareness of a widespread retreat of press and political freedom that has taken place in recent years across many parts of post-Cold War Europe and Russia. The keynote speaker was Jens Reich, former leader of New Forum pro-democracy movement in East German. High profile speakers included the Editor of the Financial Times, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, the Editor of Pro and Contra, the UK Bureau Chief of RIA-Novosti, a Human Rights Lawyer expert in Council of Europe cases, and representatives of Glasnost Defence Foundation and the Carnegie Moscow Center.

A one-day conference `Freedom of Expression and the Media', funded by the Clemens Nathan Research Centre, was held in April 2009 (with Essex University) specifically focusing on threats to media freedom and the necessity for media standards, law and regulation being appropriate and proportionate. It was attended by professionals including NGO representatives, journalists and academics.

A Working Conference on the Safety and Protection of Journalists: A Responsibility for the World was organised in London in June 2011 by The Initiative on Impunity and the Rule of Law, a joint initiative between CFOM and City University's Centre for Law Justice and Journalism (CLJJ), with input from an Advisory Board drawn from a range of key stakeholders [S1 and S2]. Fifty international participants including representatives from UNESCO, Council of Europe, OSCE, Inter- American Commission on Human Rights, UK Foreign Office, Swedish and Norwegian National Commissions for UNESCO, leading NGOs, the International Federation of Journalists and academics were brought together to discuss and assess the effectiveness of existing legal, political and institutional safeguards against violence directed at journalists because of their professional work; and to present the case for more effective international mechanisms to counter such crimes of violence and to end impunity. UNESCO designated the Working Conference an official preparatory meeting anticipating the 1st United Nations Inter-Agency Meeting on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity (and in Paris September 2011, CFOM presented further analysis and proposals for action). Attended by UNESCO representatives, the event achieved an enhanced commitment by state and non-state actors to legal and political mechanisms for improved protection and ending impunity through actions subsequently taken forward and included in the UN Action Plan. CFOM and the CLJJ produced and presented two extensive research reports, a Political Aspects study (CFOM) and a Legal Aspects Study (CLJJ via the School of Law). CFOM then worked with IGOs and NGOs to influence the policies/actions of national governments in the lead up to the UN Action Plan

In 2010, when expert groups and stakeholders were asked to support the UN Action Plan as a global priority, CFOM was already uniquely equipped to respond by combining its academic research findings with first-hand knowledge and practical advocacy skills. CFOM has provided materials and advice for a range of beneficiaries such as standard-setting texts and advice that has fed into programmes to combat violence against the news media. CFOM, with other media freedom advocacy groups, successfully proposed that the UK would table a proposal at the UNESCO International Programme for Development of Communication Council (IPDC) for `an action-oriented UN Inter-Agency meeting'. The impact of this was the formulation of the 2012 UN Action Plan. In March 2012 CFOM provided advice based on their research to the UK Foreign Office contributing to the UK's readiness to resist moves by hostile states to curtail the UN Plan in discussions in the UNESCO IPDC Council. Consequently the IPDC approved UNESCO's strategy.

In order to influence media houses' engagement with the Action Plan, CFOM and the BBC College of Journalism and Peter Horrocks, Head of Global News [S3] co-hosted a Symposium on Media Responses to Matters of Life and Death, at New Broadcasting House, London on 18 October 2012. The meeting was specifically designed to bring together 60 leading news media editors, frontline journalists, journalist associations and media freedom NGOs from 15 countries. Funded by an Open Society award to CFOM, the Symposium led to new commitment from news media houses to the UN Action Plan process, including monitoring of the success of UNESCO's Implementation Strategy. UNESCO's Director of Freedom of Expression and Media Development, who attended and supported the Symposium, said that `with the cooperation from the UN, the national authorities, civil society and media professionals like you, including BBC and groups like CFOM, we can make significant impact on improving the safety of journalists and reversing the trend of impunity' [S4]. Harrison spoke about the importance of the role of journalism education as a significant factor in the protection of journalism and for the maintenance of standards in journalism worldwide. A milestone was achieved when media houses endorsed the 8-point London Statement, drawn up by CFOM, on journalists' safety. The London Statement was signed by 46 editors and journalists representing national and international media houses and focussed on the need for media scrutiny of the behaviour of governments and judiciaries to end impunity. The London Statement was presented to Janis Karklins, UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Communication and Information at the UN 2nd Inter-Agency Meeting in Vienna, 22-23 November 2012 [S5] and then placed by UNESCO on its website [S6].

CFOM then had direct input in a number of ways into the drafting of international legal and political texts on journalists' safety which resulted in the inclusion of new policy actions in policy documents:

i. UNESCO Draft Plan of Action on Safety of Journalists. In 2011 and 2012, CFOM identified recommendations which were included in the final text.

ii. UNESCO Implementation Strategy for the UN Plan of Action. In 2012 and 2013, CFOM utilised research to contribute substantially to multiple drafts of the UNESCO Implementation Strategy Document with recommendations, influencing decisions on Action Lines, priorities and elements of the agreed text.

iii. CFOM was invited to present its recommendations for the implementation of the Action Plan at the 2nd UN Inter-Agency Meeting on Safety of Journalists (Vienna, November 2012). Its input was two-fold: a) Monitoring of the UN Action Plan; b) Facilitating engagement with its implementation by media houses and journalists' associations. The involvement of media houses is a very significant development and has had impact in developing the multi-stakeholder involvement in UN Action Plan implementation.

iv. Following the 2nd UN Inter-Agency Meeting on Safety of Journalists, Harrison and Horsley were invited to publish Censorship by Bullet in British Journalism Review, which specifically drew attention to the UN Action Plan and has had impact through the wide dissemination among journalists, educators and the media industry (BJR Vol. 24, No.1, March 2013).

v. In September 2012, CFOM provided advice on many occasions concerning strategy and textual drafting of the UN Human Rights Council Resolution on the Safety of Journalists, tabled by Austria and successfully adopted by the Council.

vi. In January to March 2013, CFOM secured the inclusion of elements including wording on `positive obligations' of States emphasising the threats that can arise from misuse of law and regulatory intervention in the Council of Europe Draft Resolution on the Safety of Journalists.

In addition, the CFOM website is a significant information source and archive of legal texts and expert analysis. It is specifically designed for use by IGOs, governments, experts and media currently involved in the Action Plan, gets 600 unique and returning visitors per month and was accessed in 20012/13 by 967 unique visitors and 1,260 visitors in total.

B) Providing expert advice internationally to influence practice

Since November 2012 CFOM has been included as a provider of support for the delivery of specific Lines of Action in the Implementation Strategy for the UN Action Plan [S7] as well as several general actions with other stakeholders.

CFOM is specifically mandated to: 1) provide assistance to fully implement existing international norms and principles [2.1.1]; 2) to identify and map the work of international organisations relevant to journalistic safety and freedom of expression [3.1.1]; 3) cooperate with the Regional Special Rapporteurs with their strategies and reports [3.1.3]; 4) to incorporate a module on the safety of journalists and impunity within the teaching curricula at postgraduate level [3.2.10]; 5) to provide assistance to fully implement existing international norms and principles, particularly within the framework of the international human rights law, humanitarian law and criminal law [2.1.1]; 6) to liaise on international events at which the issue of the safety of journalists could be included [3.2.14]; 7) to develop partnerships with journalism schools and other research centres to monitor and analyse relevant issues, and to provide training where appropriate [3.3.7].

C) Incorporating issues of safety and impunity into journalism training

CFOM has used its research into journalism education to assist UNESCO on the development of a journalism education module presented at the World Journalism Education Congress Brussels [S8]. CFOM is also developing safety education in the curriculum for journalism students at the University of Sheffield and is sharing findings and good practice with other journalism educators. It is also mapping the worldwide provision of safety in journalism curricula by journalism educators, something that is currently unknown, but which needs to be established in order to evaluate the role that education plays and should play in the implementation of the UN Action Plan objectives. CFOM's research and action in the area of safety in the curriculum, along with presentations at international events and its continuing policy advice and advocacy activities meets its UN Action Plan implementation obligations in B above.

Sources to corroborate the impact

S1. Senior Vice President and Senior Programme Advisor of The Salzburg Global Seminar (to 2012) and former advisor to UN Secretary-General corroborates the claim that the Initiative on Impunity and the Rule of Law was a joint project of CFOM and the Centre for Law, Justice and Journalism (CLJJ), City University, London.

S2. The Chief Executive, Media Legal Defence Initiative corroborates that the provisional findings of the reports written by CFOM and the CLJJ were presented at a gathering of experts and policy-makers at the conference co-hosted by CFOM and CLJJ, which was held at City University on 1 June 2011.

S3. The Director of Global News, BBC can corroborate CFOM's role in the Symposium and the The London Statement as well as the statement's importance

S4. Speech by Guy Berger, Director for Freedom of Expression and Media Development; ( corroborates CFOM's role in work building up to the launch of the UN Action Plan.

S5. Pictures of CFOM handing over the London Statement at the UN 2nd Inter-agency Meeting, Vienna, 22-23 November 2012 (

S6. The London Statement on UNESCO's website (

S7. UNESCO Implementation Strategy which includes CFOM lines of Actions ( corroborates that CFOM is playing a specific role in the implementation of key elements of UNESCO's Implementation Strategy.

S8. A Programme Specialist, Communications and Information Sector, UNESCO corroborates CFOM's influence on journalism education.