Model Course on the Safety of Journalists

© UNESCO

Attacks and crimes committed against media professionals reached alarming levels during the past years, creating a climate of fear and insecurity. Many journalists were threatened, attacked and even killed for various reasons, including their political affiliation. In addition, media representatives always express their concerns over personal safety as the strongest challenge to carrying out their professional duties. Along with these politically motivated safety concerns, journalists who are covering events in the field are also reporting an increase in the number of direct attacks against them on the street. Many have been subject to violence while covering major incidents, such as protests and demonstrations. Wars and armed conflicts represent another major threat to journalists. Both media personnel as well as the institutions were target to attacks, killings as well as intentional destruction.

Realizing the significance of developing a comprehensive response to counter this situation, UNESCO and IFJ are working towards a more active involvement of related academic and training institutions. Universities and media faculties are requested to play a more constructive role in rectifying the current dangerous situation, through taking action in two particular fields:

1) Updating their curricula: In most of universities, media curricula do not include any courses about safety. Students are not aware of their rights and obligations, which renders them unprotected in face of violations committed against them. Hence, universities should work towards including safety courses in related media studies.

2) Capacity building on safety considerations: During their university studies, media students don’t receive any practical training on safety. Universities are invited to develop special field trainings on safety measures to be taken by journalists to protect themselves in times of emergencies.

In this framework, UNESCO Office in Beirut and the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) are leading discussions on the development of a “Model course on the Safety of Journalists at universities” in the Arab region.

A first conference was held on 15 and 16 February 2016 in Beirut, in collaboration with the Directorate of Higher Education at the Lebanese Ministry of Education and Higher Education, and with the support of The Norwegian National Commission for UNESCO and the Government of Sweden. This regional conference brought together around 40 participants from Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Iraq, Palestine, Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco and Oman. Professors, deans, media professionals, diplomats, governmental representatives, and international experts were able to share their insight on this matter, covering the different technical aspects of this topic, including curricula related issues, safety of journalists and reports in the field, and ongoing actions and initiatives led by international actors to guarantee safety of journalists.

This course aims to develop the practical skills of media students, enabling them to:

  • Identify the risks that threaten journalists and analysing the causes leading to their increase;
  • Better understand practices and measures that could be taken by journalists to ensure their personal safety in a hostile zone;
  • Analyse why the issue of safety represents today a major source of concern, and understand how is this related to national, regional and international mechanisms aiming to support human rights and international humanitarian law;
  • Use advocacy tools to promote a safer working environment for journalists, and address the issue of impunity.

This activity comes within both UNESCO and IFJ mandates to promote freedom of expression, safety of journalists, support of independent and pluralistic media and universal access to information. It is also aligned with the UN Inter-Agency Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity led by UNESCO, building upon and contributing to UNESCO efforts dedicated to prevent and denounce crimes against media professionals.

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