Some 20 judges and journalists from countries on both shores of the Mediterranean (Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Italy, France and Spain) met in Rabat, Morocco, on 21–22 June 2012.
In this EU-Maghreb cross-meeting organized by the CIDOB Foundation (Barcelona Centre for International Affairs) and the UNU International Institute for the Alliance of Civilizations (UNU-IIAOC), participants explored the political dimension of the relationship between information and communication. They also discussed the conditions of acceptance and negotiation and the regulation of the spheres of responsibility in different societies of journalists (who play a threefold role as providers of information, disclosers and critics) and judges (who are experts in guaranteeing the law and upholding the essential balances of political and legal pluralism).
In opening remarks on the first day, Yolanda Onghena, Senior Researcher of the CIDOB Foundation’s Intercultural Dynamics Programme underlined the need to shorten the distance between judges and journalists to reduce the potential for differing interpretations and misunderstandings.
Carlos Gómez, President of the Provincial Audience of the Balearic Islands, Spain, conducted panels — “Independence of the judiciary, press freedom” and “Public procedures and freedom of expression: Principles and constraints” — that focused mainly on the relationship between the media and justice. The relationship is characterized by an unbalanced alliance in democratic regimes that needs to combine freedom of expression, counter-power and legal ethics while taking into account the right of public access to information.
Carme Colomina, Head of the International Section of Ara, Spain, discussed the main financial and social challenges that journalism is faced with in order to preserve independence while serving the public interest. “There is no democracy without journalism”, he said.
Publicity of procedures contributes to the transparency and, thus, the quality of justice. “When there is a conflict between freedom of expression and justice, constriction of the first must be justified”, stated Florence Hartmann, a freelance journalist.
The second day’s final sessions focused on the image of justice in the media and vice versa, and on regulation and deontological ethics in an institutional and professional environment. Carlos Gómez identified these reflections as a “mirror game”. Judges and journalists need to recognize the roles of the other, he said, and clarify their own roles in order to avoid control by the political and economic powers.
The participants analysed in the two-day workshop the institutional mechanisms that should be implemented to assure the right of the public to access information, especially in political transitions where there is a need for a redefinition of the treatment of basic rights.
“In democracy, freedom of expression and accountability are two sides of the same coin”, concluded Sidhem Bensedrine, President of the Tunis Center for Transitional Justice. The Tunisian journalist and human rights activist advocates the creation of professional entities able to relieve the pressure on justice but also to make professionals accountable for their work.
The meeting marked a starting point for future collaborations. A bilingual French-English publication will present a general report of the meeting and can be accessed on the CIDOB website.
For a longer summary of the event, see the document “Organising Information, Regulating Communication” – Event Summary.