New Group to Boost Free Speech in Eastern Europe

New Group to Boost Free Speech in Eastern Europe

NEW YORK CITY—At a meeting in Belgrade, Serbia and Montenegro, media lawyers from across Eastern Europe joined forces on March 6, 2004 in a bid to advance free speech regionwide. The newly created International Media Lawyers’ Association will target restrictive media laws and promote freedom of expression. The association will pool information and nurture the professionalism of the region’s growing network of media lawyers.

The threat of criminal prosecutions, high libel damages, financial censorship and denied access to information continue to chill free expression in many countries of the region.

"This new forum is a big step forward for free speech defenders. Despite a decade of reform, media freedom is still undermined by bad laws and practices throughout the region,” said Alexander Kashumov, a member of the association’s newly elected board. "The association will give a boost to strategic reform."

Members of the association have agreed to share legal knowledge and practices tried and tested in local and regional courts, to help train a new generation of media lawyers and bring to the region the best and latest media law policies.

The International Media Lawyers’ Association was founded following meetings of media lawyers in Belgrade (March 5-6) and Tbilisi, Georgia (February 23-24). The association is open to media lawyers from across Europe and internationally. Founding members include media lawyers and activists from South Eastern Europe, the Southern Caucasus, Russia, and Ukraine, as well as from the United States and the United Kingdom. Many graduated recently from a summer school on media law at Oxford University, coorganized by the Open Society Justice Initiative and the Oxford Program in Comparative Media Law and Policy.

"Journalists often come under attack when they challenge government wrongdoing and corruption. Media lawyers need to be familiar with international standards to defend the role of these public watchdogs," said Helen Darbishire of the Open Society Justice Initiative, which helped organize the founding meetings jointly with the Stanhope Centre on Communications Law and Policy, the Belgrade Media Center, and Georgia’s Liberty Institute.