United Nations Subcommission on Freedom of Information and of the Press

2012-09-17 14:44:21

In the wake of World War II, world leaders believed that improving the free flow of information across borders and ensuring the security of war correspondents would help avert future conflicts. Thus, the nascent United Nations Economic, Social, and Cultural Organization created a Commission on Human Rights and Subcommission on Freedom of Information and of the Press.

The subcommission met five times, beginning in 1947. It participated in drafting the free expression provisions of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. It also produced a draft international code of journalist ethics and a Statement of the Rights, Obligations, and Practices of a free press. Both obliged the media to report accurately, and the latter obliged nations to allow reporters free movement and the widest possible access to sources.

The subcommission laid the groundwork for the U.N. Conference on Freedom of Information, which assembled in 1948. The conference proposed a Convention on Freedom of Information, but the convention was never opened for signature.

Work on the subcommission ultimately broke down for the same reason that the convention failed. East and West could never agree on the proper role of government in supervising the practice of journalism. Western democracies, moreover, feared that the codification of permissible impositions on media—to protect national security, for example—would license oppression in the developing world. In 1952, the United States and Union of Soviet Socialist Republics both opposed continuation of the subcommission.


References and Further Reading

  • Hilding Eek. Freedom of Information as a Project of International Legislation. Uppsala, Sweden: Uppsala Universitets A ° rsskrift, 1953.

Cases and Statutes Cited

  • Final Act, U.N. Conf. Freedom Info., U.N. Doc. E/CONF.6/79 (1948)
  • International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Dec. 19, 1966, 999 U.N.T.S. 171
  • Statement of the Rights, Obligations, and Practices to be Included in the Concept of Freedom of Information, UNESCO Subcomm’n Freedom Info. & Press, 2d Sess., U.N. Doc. E/CN.4/80 (1948)
  • Universal Declaration of Human Rights, G.A. Res. 217A, U.N. GAOR, 3d Sess., 1st plen. mtg., U.N. Doc. A/810 (1948)

See also Chafee, Zechariah, Jr.; Freedom of Expression in the International Context; Theories of Civil Liberties, International