Press freedom: safety of journalists and impunity

The articles in this book, several by journalists with personal experience of harassment or violence, explore the problem from many angles. Although all agree that violence against journalists for doing their job is morally and legally unacceptable under any circumstances, there are differing points of view about whether journalists should be afforded extra legal protection under international humanitarian law.

The annual conferences that UNESCO organizes on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day bring together experts to discuss a variety of issues concerning a free press. As a consequence, a considerable political momentum has built up, and a large body of knowledge has been acquired, reflecting an awareness that press freedom is a critical part of the human rights-based approach to development as elaborated in the UN Millennium Development Goals. In other words, without a guarantee of the right to freedom of expression and information, it is unlikely that a country will have a good record on human rights or decent defences against corruption. It is also unlikely to be economically successful.

“Press freedom, safety of journalists and impunity” was the topic of UNESCO World Press Freedom Day 2007. The decision to select this theme is very appropriate considering that violence against media professionals is severely on the rise and constitutes one of the greatest threats to freedom of expression and freedom of the press. The failure to prevent the killing of journalists and attacks on the media means that governments and authorities around the world are depriving us of a fundamental right guaranteed to us by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – that of freely receiving and imparting information and ideas.

Every journalist killed or neutralized by terror is an observer less of the human condition. Every attack distorts reality by creating a climate of fear and self-censorship. The appeal has to be made to governments and public authorities because the killers who carry out the murders, the thugs responsible for the attacks and the dark forces behind the violence are probably impervious to reason and beyond any appeal to conscience.

They survive and flourish because they know that there is very little likelihood of their being caught. Statistics compiled by the Committee to Protect Journalists indicate that full justice was achieved in only 6.7 percent of the cases in which newsmen and women were killed in the course of their duties between January 1, 1992 and June 18, 2007.

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