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Appeal to international bodies and NGOs participating in 2nd World Conference against Racism

April 17, 2009

Reporters Without Borders and the Doha Centre for Media Freedom are concerned about the threat to free expression that arises when the media broach religious issues. They therefore urge the Member States of the United Nations and the international and regional organisations and NGOs attending the 2nd World Conference Against Racism (Durban II) to respect the following principles.

Committed to the full realisation of the human rights and fundamental freedoms proclaimed in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in other universally recognised instruments such as the 1966 International Covenants and the 1965 International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination;

Bearing in mind that the freedoms of expression and religion are part of the essential foundations or a free and democratic society;

Convinced that an in-depth dialogue between cultures and religions favours the development of a tolerant and multicultural society;

We confirm our support for these principles:

Freedom of religion and freedom of expression are in no way contradictory. They are mutually reinforcing and both are part of the human and spiritual foundations of societies.

The right to freedom of religion, as enshrined in international law, above all protects the individual and to a certain extent the rights of religious and belief communities, but not the religions themselves. It guarantees respect for believers, not beliefs.

It is neither useful nor necessary to impose more binding and repressive limits on free expression that those envisaged by international law, namely the prohibition of incitement to national, racial or religious hatred and incitement to war. The adoption of additional restrictions would pose a threat to the - very fundamental - freedom of expression and to related freedoms including freedom of religion.

Freedom of expression should only be subject to the restrictions imposed by law, namely the laws on defamation and insult, and the restrictions that are necessary for protecting safety and public order and the fundamental rights and freedoms or others.

Introducing or re-introducing "defamation of religions" and "blasphemy" as crimes in national or international legal documents would represent an unacceptable restriction on the right to free expression.

The dissemination of misconceptions about religions or members of religious communities may shock and elicit disproportionate reactions. But the response to hurtful comments is not to adopt laws restricting free expression but rather measures to foster a climate of tolerance and inclusiveness in which religions can be practiced without risk of stigmatisation or discrimination.

Analysis and evaluation of a religion′s content, including criticism, satire and disparaging comments, are part of the practice of freedom of expression, thought and opinion.

Ignorance and lack of cultural awareness - the underlying causes of intolerance and mutual incomprehension - represent obstacles to media coverage of religious phenomena. Our age is marked not so much by a clash of cultures as a clash of the uncultured. For this reason, history of religions ought to be taught at all levels in school systems.

We recommend that journalists:

Avoid simplifying religious issues and take care to respect journalistic ethics and rules of conduct, including honesty, good faith, presenting all sides to an argument, putting facts in their context and distinguishing between reporting and editorialising.

Refrain from repeating stereotypes and misconceptions about religions, stigmatising believers or branding them by religion or ethnicity. Analyse and explain the confused ideas and crude simplifications that are the breeding ground for discrimination and hatred.

Combat the tendency to simplify by reflecting all the different aspects of a subject, including its political, social, cultural and historic aspects.

Refrain from deliberately provocative or sensationalist coverage of religious developments that is likely to elicit hostile reactions from believers. Include history of religions in the syllabus of journalism schools in order to raise the general cultural level.

Provide for a right of response in an equivalent space to any content that could be perceived as discriminatory, blasphemous or insulting.

To sign this appeal, send an e-mail to

For more information contact:
Reporters without Borders
Phone: 33 1 44 83 84 84

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