J.-F. Julliard (RWB): “As long as authorities do not relentlessly track down journalists’ killers, these murders will continue”

© Jean-François Julliard

According to Jean-François Julliard, Secretary-General of Reporters without Borders (RWB), given the difficulty of protecting journalists who investigate corruption, the fight against impunity remains the only solution likely to dissuade potential murderers.

Interview by Bernard Giansetto, UNESCO Bureau of Public Information

  • For a journalist covering conflict, there are clear safety rules and precautions to be taken. This is not the case for journalists investigating corruption. How can we protect journalists who are threatened because of what they write?

    The only possible response is the fight against impunity. If, in the future, in the Philippines, in Mexico or in Russia, there is a real willingness on the part of the authorities and adequate means are used to apprehend the murderers of journalists, the situation will improve. The problem will last as long as murderers do not hesitate to commit their crimes because they know they have little to fear. In some countries, a corrupt businessman knows he can have anyone murdered for a few thousand dollars, practically without incurring any risk. As long as there is no real commitment by the authorities to track down and punish these murderers, journalists will continue to be murdered.
  • What can organizations that defend journalists do? Exert pressure? Ask citizens to write to the authorities?

    Pressure is more the responsibility of States. But States are often very timid, except in emblematic cases such as that of Anna Politkovskaya in Russia. As for letter campaigns, they have never changed anything. However, organizations such as ours can attempt to sway the authorities by engaging them in discussion. If NGOs had not been there to do this work of raising awareness and lobbying, the Philippines would have never set up a special task force, as they have done, to investigate crimes against journalists. Mexico would have never set up the fiscalia especial, a special prosecutor’s office that deals only with crimes targeting journalists. To my knowledge, it is the only country to have created such a body. It has not solved the problem, but it is progress. Unfortunately, we have the impression that real progress is very limited, despite a clear willingness to improve the situation in certain countries.

  • While we wait for an end to impunity, protecting oneself when denouncing embezzlement or political corruption is difficult. Organizations like yours provide training for war reporters. But it is not clear how you could do the same for protection against hired killers. Would it even make sense?

    Yes, it would make sense, and Mexican news organizations have gone the furthest in their thinking on this issue. Some have taken radical measures, for example by giving anonymity to reporters investigating drug trafficking. Others have decided not to cover this issue any more, except for the authorities’ official statements or declarations by known representatives of the drug cartels. Some newspapers have even given up investigative work. We get the feeling that the drug traffickers have won the information battle in the regions most affected by this problem.

  • Concerning war journalism, just as aid workers are targets, so are journalists today. Are we not seeing a general worsening of the situation?

    What has changed for war journalists is they feel now that besides the usual risk of being hit by a shell or blown up by a mine, there is a real possibility of being attacked anywhere. The neutrality of journalists is no longer respected. Very often they are considered spies or treated as combatants. They are thought to be taking sides. In countries such as Iraq and above all in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, they are not thought to be impartial. They are also considered to have monetary value. This last aspect is not new but it has considerably worsened. A journalist is more than ever a bargaining chip.
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