“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.”
Article 1, Universal Declaration of Human Rights, UN 1948.
The starting point for human rights is based on morals: human rights state that the human value is associated with humanity. The purpose of human rights is to live a life worthy of a human.
Characteristics of human rights include universality, inalienability and fundamentality.
Universality means that human rights belong to all people in the world, based on the fact that they are human.
They apply to everyone regardless of age, ethnic origin, religion, sexual orientation, nationality, culture, gender, race, disability or any other characteristic.
Inalienability refers to the fact that human rights are acquired at birth and no-one can relinquish them, for example sell themselves to slavery, even if they wanted to.
Fundamentality means that only very important rights are included in human rights, such as the freedom of speech, the right to life and the right to not to be tortured.
When human rights are not adhered to, it is a question of a human rights violation.
Even though human rights are universal, the realization and promotion of them is practically in the charge of nation states.
Media is in a central position regarding the realization of human rights. In an ideal situation media acts as the eyes and ears, reporting human rights violations and triumphs.
According to the non-profit organization Reporters without borders, a free and aware media is a tool, which prevents the transformation of human rights violations into a part of everyday life.
Despite these ideals, media does not only witness and report violations. It can also promote such violations.
Media is often harnessed as a propaganda machine which creates imagery which advances the agenda of the oppressors or the ruling class.
A good recent example is the photo and video propaganda of the Islamic State ISIL (or “Daesh”), which spreads images of violence and human rights violations. This is how it aims to create an atmosphere which provokes the supposed opposing parties to excessive measures and fear-tinged responses.
In cases like this, it is the role of the professional journalist to try to recognize the motives behind violence-infused communications and to report them in a way which does not encourage the escalation of the conflict.