16.05.2013 - UNESCO Office in Brasilia

"A problem for democracy", by Lucien Muñoz (Op-Ed)

Published in Folha de S.Paulo, Brazilian newspaper, 14 May 2013

The commemoration of World Press Freedom Day 2013 in Costa Rica ten days ago drew attention to the growing problems of safety for journalists and impunity for the crimes against them around the world.

Brazil’s exposure at the UNESCO event came not only through the participation of the President of the Supreme Court, Joaquim Barbosa, and Brazilian representatives of key organizations in the defence of freedom of expression, editors, journalists and teachers, but also through its own record of crimes against media professionals without proper punishment.

Eduardo Carvalho, of the online news program “Ultima Hora News”, from Campo Grande (MS), Valerio Luiz de Oliveira, of the radio news program, “Jornal da Goiania” (GO), Decio Sa, of the newspaper “O Estado do Maranhao” and “Blog do Decio”, and Mario Randolfo Marques Lopes, of “Vassouras Net”, from Barra do Pirai (RJ), are on the list of Brazilian journalists who, according to the New York Committee for the Protection of Journalists (CPJ), died last year in Brazil as a result of practicing their profession.

They are among 600 journalists killed in the last decade worldwide. In 2012 alone, UNESCO condemned the killing of 121 media professionals.

In a joint message, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, and the Director-General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova, warned that many of these journalists were killed while covering non-conflict situations. Many journalists also suffer intimidation, threats and other types of violence, or are arbitrarily detained and tortured, often without legal recourse.

This year, the UN has also highlighted the issue of the safety of online journalists, bloggers, producers of social media and citizen journalists. Apart from the physical danger, they also suffer emotional and psychological violence, violations of personal information, intimidation, unwarranted surveillance and invasions of privacy.

One of the issues of greatest concern is that of impunity, which contributes to the perpetuation of these crimes. The most recent research shows that, on average, no more than one in ten crimes against journalists is brought to trial resulting in punishment.

Because of this, leaders of all the organisations, agencies, funds and programs of the UN met in 2012 to create the United Nations Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity; the Portuguese version of which was recently launched in Brazil.

Based on this Plan, the United Nations intends to support the development of national laws on security and freedom of expression, raise awareness of the general population and provide training to journalists on these issues.

If freedom of the press and an end to impunity were central themes 20 years ago, when World Press Freedom Day was created, they are now a global imperative. It is up to governments, the press and society as a whole to fight for the right of journalists to do their work without the threat of violence. Likewise, it is up to the Judiciary to respond rapidly and punish the perpetrators.

Whenever a journalist is silenced by violence and that crime goes unpunished, democracy loses, as does society as whole.

LUCIEN MUÑOZ, 58 is a French economist and the Office Director of United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in Brazil.

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