Culture Night Belfast & the right to freedom of expression #CNB12

Culture Night Belfast (and in a few other towns besides) is almost upon us.

Tomorrow night is a chance for thousands of people to take to the streets, bars, cafes, offices and other nooks and crannies around the city to experience all sorts of arts and cultural experiences. While most events are concentrated on the Cathedral Quarter area of the city, this year’s Culture Night has extended its reach across the city.

There are simply too many events to preview effectively (so check out their listings), but let’s just say that the old cliché, “there’s something for everyone”, is – for once – true.

What unites all of these events, is that individually and collectively, they amount to a joyous celebration of the right to freedom of expression. Everyone has the right to give and receive information and ideas without fear or interference. Yet throughout the world, journalists face harassment and even death for exercising that right.

While governments have never welcomed the prying eye and the biting pen of the investigative reporter – just ask some of the local hacks working the Stormont beat – journalists have been increasingly targeted for serious repression in many countries on account of their work.

And yet, freedom of expression is essential to securing all other rights because it provides the information and the space with which to campaign for those rights. By attacking journalists, governments and armed groups seek to restrict the flow of information and to diminish the power of the people.

That’s the focus of the Amnesty International event, Journalists on the Frontline, on Friday as part of Culture Night Belfast. You’re invited.

In fact you’re invited right into the heart of the Belfast Telegraph – the boardroom, walls hung with framed front pages telling the story of Belfast’s own troubled past – to hear reporters from local newspapers and broadcast outlets tell the remarkable stories of just some of the journalists under attack right now, from Azerbaijan to Zimbabwe.

Of course, closer to home, we know that journalists here have been in the firing line and we will also reflect on that too. Martin O’Hagan, a Sunday World reporter known for his work on paramilitaries and drug dealers, was murdered by loyalists in 2001. As recently as last month, another local reporter received death threats, apparently from the UDA, although later denied by that organisation.

Journalism in this country may be suffering a reputation problem right now, but without courageous journalists – at home and abroad – we are all worse off.

If you can’t make it in person, you can take action here in support of Mehman Huseynov, a journalist in Azerbaijan, who is facing up to five years in jail following his arrest on 12 June 2012 on charges of ‘hooliganism’, who was targeted by authorities after highlighting human rights abuses during the Eurovision Song Contest.

Journalists on the Frontline – four 30-minute events starting at 5pm, 5:30pm, 6pm and 6:30pm, featuring Malachi O’Doherty, Suzanne Breen, Henry McDonald, William Crawley, Bimpe Archer, Sam McBride, Paul Connolly, Roisin Gorman and Jim Cusack. Free admission.