Freedom of Expression

Press Release R94/20

Joint declaration on freedom of expression and elections in the digital age 


April 30, 2020

Washington, D.C. - UN, OSCE and OAS experts for freedom of expression presented the 2020 Joint Declaration today on the fundamental role of freedom of expression, access to information, independent media and a free Internet in ensuring free, fair and transparent elections. The statement concludes with a series of recommendations to States and a set of good practices that should be adopted by media, digital platforms, parties and candidates on how to address current challenges and protect freedom of expression during elections in the digital era.

The IACHR's Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression is grateful for the support of the organizations Article 19 the Centre for Law and Democracy, which once again facilitated the process of drafting this annual statement. This is the 21st joint declaration issued by the Special Rapporteurs on Freedom of Expression, Opinion and Freedom of the Media since this instrument was established in 1999. Likewise the Office extends its gratitude to Article 19 for organizing the launch event, this time through a virtual conference, due to the measures established worldwide to address the Covid-19 pandemic.

In this context, the Rapporteurs highlighted the importance of a dynamic media landscape, including traditional and digital media, and the increasingly essential role played by social networks and digital technologies in protecting democratic environments. Digital technologies have become essential tools during election periods for both voters, candidates and the public as they can freely access information, express their opinions and interact directly with each other. 

On the other hand, the experts drew attention to the challenges that have arisen as a result of the convergence of legacy and digital media and the imperative need for the normative framework governing freedom of expression to reflect these changes and to promote transparent and accountable oversight of online content moderation.

The statement also draws attention to worrying situations arising from this context, such as threats, violent attacks and smear campaigns against journalists in the context of covering elections, making a special appeal to governments to avoid using their position as a means of biasing media coverage during election periods. Similarly, it also addresses the dissemination of deliberate disinformation and "hate speech" through social networks and online platforms and the misuse of social networks by state and private actors to subvert electoral processes. Such practices can generate acts of tension during elections, so experts call on stakeholders to avoid intentionally using such strategies to enhance their electoral prospects.

Among other recommendations, the experts in their Joint Declaration reiterate to States those obligations that take on greater relevance during electoral periods:

  • Promote a free, independent and diverse media.
  • Guarantee effective access to the Internet and other digital technologies for all parts of population.
  • Strictly adhere to the international law (legality, legitimacy and necessity) when applying restrictions to freedom of expression.
  • Avoid using the power of the State apparatus undertake measures with a view to unduly influencing media reporting.
  • Ensure that the media enjoys robust access to sources of official information and to candidates for public office.

The Joint Declaration was signed by the United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression, David Kaye, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Representative on Freedom of the Media, Harlem Desir and the Organization of American States (OAS) Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression, Edison Lanza. 

The Joint Declaration is available here.