Tuesday, July 23, 2019
David Kaye is the United Nations special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression. He's tasked with reporting on and monitoring the state of free expression globally. We caught up with Kaye to talk about how safe journalists are today.

How dangerous is it to be a journalist today?

It’s increasingly dangerous for journalists to operate around the world. Even the safest kinds of places like the United States have become unsafe. But there are some places where it’s extremely dangerous to be a journalist, like the Philippines, or Mexico, Syria or Iraq. I think we need to be careful about generalising. Nonetheless, it is a very big problem worldwide.

What are your main concerns right now with respect to safety of journalists?

There’s a couple of things, one of them is protection. In order to have an environment that is protective of journalists you need politicians and government structures that provide for and promote protection. When you have political figures constantly demonising the press, that’s a problem of protection. If you don’t have a way for journalists to seek protection from authorities, particularly in real unsafe environments, that’s a problem of protection. Another big issue is impunity. There’s virtually full impunity for attacks on journalists worldwide and that has to change.

What does a lack of safety of journalists mean for freedom of expression within a country?

We tend to think about attacks on journalists mainly from the perspective of how it harms to a particular journalist. That should be our first focus, but the broader picture is that attacks on journalists seek to prevent us as individuals from receiving information. It’s important to see attacks on journalists not just as attacks on individuals, but as attacks on the public’s right to know.

What needs to happen right now to make journalists safer?

Governments that support the protection journalists need to take genuine steps to make that a reality. That means when they see governments that attack journalists, like Saudi Arabia, they need to hold them accountable. It means when they see other governments fail in their obligation to protect journalists, they need to provide accountability themselves or the funding necessary to allow for international institutions to do that. These kinds of actual, genuine support for protection and accountability need to happen immediately.

Picture by: Maina Kiai - Flickr