Every week a journalist is killed for reporting the news and bringing information to the public. In the past ten years hundreds of journalists have been murdered, but in nine out of ten cases the killers go unpunished. This is not acceptable. We need to move from words to action.
Crimes against journalists are the biggest threat to press freedom and access to information at this moment. Every killed journalist results in many others exerting self-censorship or even leaving the profession. In the past ten years more than 800 journalists lost their lives for reporting the news - an average of one every five days. Out of all the journalists that have been killed, 95% were local and 5% foreign correspondents. Almost 20% of them were freelance journalists. This is especially worrying considering the fact that news organizations rely more and more on freelance journalists. Unfortunately they are particularly exposed to risks. They usually work alone in dangerous environments and rarely get the same level of protection and assistance that staff reporters have.
Journalists play a crucial role in society. They function as a watchdog and expose crimes and injustice. However, in some countries and regions it is close to impossible for journalists to do their job. They are prosecuted, threatened or violence is used against them to intimidate and silence them. And in conflict areas and war zones, journalists are even viewed as legitimate shooting targets. This has to stop! Journalists are not parties in conflicts or wars so shouldn’t be viewed as such.
What Free Press Unlimited wants
We believe that everyone should have access to reliable information and independent news. People deserve to know. Journalists and media workers all over the world should be able to conduct their work in a safe, violence and censorship free environment.
Resolutions on safety of journalists
In the past five years the international community passed numerous resolutions and declarations regarding safety of journalists. Free Press Unlimited welcomes them. However, these resolutions and declarations did not change the situation on the ground for journalists and media workers. Journalists are still being murdered, harassed and repressed and often flee the country in fear of prison sentences or heavy fines.
In order to provide safety to journalists, the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva proposed new measures in the latest resolution adopted in September. The 87 UN Member Sates that supported the resolution should practice what they preach. By providing protection to journalists within their own country and speaking up when other states don't live up to these standards. This is the only way we can achieve safety of journalists. A necessity for both the journalists in danger as well as the societies they serve and the public that would otherwise be deprived of reliable information.
How do we create this environment where journalists can do their work safely? There is no silver bullet solution, as the source of the violence varies per context, but it is a fact that all stakeholders are needed to take action applies in all contexts.
Governments need to do more
Lawmakers need to provide an enabling environment for journalists to perform their work independently and without undue interference. Violence, threats and attacks against journalists and media workers should be prevented as much as possible by creating legal guarantees and practical implementation of those laws.
Government representatives and security services can provide protection by demonstrating their support for the work of media and journalists structurally. When violence does take place they should be the first to denounce this and call for the prosecution of those responsible. It is inexcusable for state officials to justify any violence, but especially against journalists when it was because of things they said or a story they published. It is essential to have functioning institutions that ensure prosecution and protection.
The judiciary should provide a clear deterrent by structurally prosecuting those who commit crimes against journalists. With such high rates of impunity, there is a clear case to be made for the creation of special investigative units, the appointment of specialized prosecutors and the training of prosecutors and the judiciary specifically on issues related to freedom of expression and the media. Clearly the judicial systems currently do not manage to address the challenges.
Media sector: solidarity works
Another change that has to happen is on the side of the media sector itself. They need to do all within their power to protect those who they rely on. They can do this by implementing proper safety procedures and by telling the stories of their colleagues who are under threat. They need to start using their power to reach the public. Our partner the Pakistan Press Foundation gives us a perfect example how effective this can be. They have managed to effectively push the media sector in Pakistan to show solidarity. All mainstream media houses reached agreement that from that moment on every attack on a journalist houses would be covered by all of them. “An attack on one of us is an attack on all of us”. As a result the media started to non-stop cover cases of violence against journalists that resulted in these cases being taken up by authorities and the release of journalists.
Of course there is also an important obligation on the side of journalists themselves. They need to be aware of the risks of assignments and prepare accordingly. By sticking to ethical reporting (be factual, check sources, have knowledge of the context, avoid one-sided stories and refrain from fueling tensions) they can avoid becoming a target to a certain extent. And they need to show solidarity when one of their colleagues is confronted with violence by speaking up and demanding action from the authorities.
Killing journalists is a war crime: international prosecution
If all measures described above fail and when prosecution of violence against journalists on the ground is lacking, we need an actor to take up this role on an international level. Killing journalists is a war crime, for which we need international prosecution. We have to create independent research capacity, international prosecutors and investigative judges, that can handle the investigation after violence against journalists has taken place, when states fail to do so. That is the only way we can break the cycle of impunity.
Stand up for journalists and justice
Access to independent news and reliable information is crucial. This requires press freedom and protection of journalists. In order to achieve that, we need to increase the accountability and responsibility on an international level. Coordinate our efforts better, build stronger coalitions and end impunity for crimes against journalists. We as a society need to support journalists all over the world by condemning any act of violence against them. For that reason Free Press Unlimited calls for the establishment of an international trust fund for journalists. To provide journalists with insurance, protective gear and safety training. Because, as Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations once said “No journalist anywhere should have to risk their life to report the news. Together, let us stand up for journalists – and stand up for justice”.