On 28-29 November 2011, Firdevs Robinson represented AEJ in a two-day conference organised by the Committee of Ministers of the CoE in Luxembourg. Following on from the 2010 Exchange, representatives from major religions, civil society delegates, journalists and a handful of humanists and atheists gathered together to discuss “The role of the media in fostering intercultural dialogue, tolerance and mutual understanding: freedom of expression of the media and respect towards cultural and religious diversity”.
CoE representatives repeatedly underlined that respect for religious beliefs should not restrict open debate on religious matters, but some representatives of religions frequently argued for maintaining limitations on free speech in order to avoid offence. Some were strongly critical of the media. The AEJ representative expressed un-ease about the CoE wanting to give a mission to the media to encourage dialogue among religions. She said the media had to inform the public debate, but it was not the media’s responsibility to promote religion.
Firdevs Robinson also raised the subject of threats faced by journalists writing and commenting on religion. And mentioned the issue of Rafiq Tagi, the Azerbaijani journalist, who had had a fatwa issued against him by an Iranian religious leader and who was jailed by the Azerbaijani authorities for his allegedly offensive comments on Islam. Mr Tagi was killed only days before the Luxembourg meeting. ‘Did the CoE feel concerned about the pressures and threats faced by journalists who comment on religious issues?’, was her question. Secretary-General Jagland answered saying they knew about it and found it very disturbing.
At the closing session, doubts about giving journalists the job of promoting religion, and the need for further protection for journalists against attacks by religious groups were clearly mentioned.
(Firdevs Robinson is a member of AEJ UK and CNBC-e London Correspondent, Consultant and Media Trainer)