Ensuring the Safety of Journalists and Media Workers
A free, independent and pluralistic media environment, online and offline, must be one in which journalists, media workers, and social media producers can work safely and independently without the fear of being threatened or even killed. It needs to be an environment where attacks, intimidations, harassments, abductions, arbitrary imprisonments, and threats are the exceptions and not the norm. Journalists (as well as citizen journalists), editors, publishers and online intermediaries alike should not be subjected to political or financial coercion and manipulation. They should especially be protected from threats to the security of themselves and their families.
Securing the safety of journalists and media workers is an urgent matter. More than 600 journalists and media workers had been killed in the last ten years. In other words, every week a journalist loses his or her life for bringing news and information to the public. These statistics highlight the relevance of the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity, and its specific goal of mobilizing the UN family of agencies as well as other stakeholders including UN Member States, regional human rights bodies, NGO and media houses to collaborate in creating a safer environment for journalists. There is enormous potential in the UN Plan of Action in bringing the full weight of the UN to bear on the challenges, and in being a point of reference for others who share the concern to turn the tide. Already we are seeing the various UN mechanisms moving in the direction that contributes to the UN Plan of Action. In addition to the aforementioned United Nations Human Rights Council resolution in 2012, the 2nd UN Inter-Agency Meeting in Vienna, Austria last year, adopted a concrete global, regional, and national level implementation strategy was adopted for the UN Plan of Action. Four countries (South Sudan, Iraq, Nepal and Pakistan) were identified to be amongst other interested countries where alignment of stakeholders could make a difference. Latin America was specifically acknowledged as a region where good work could be done under auspices of the UN Plan, and where lessons could be shared internationally.
As the UN Plan recognises, promoting the safety of journalists must not be constrained to after-the-fact action. Much more must be done for preventive mechanisms and for actions to address the root causes of violence against journalists and of impunity. This implies the need to deal with issues such as corruption, organized crime and an effective framework for the rule of law. In addition, the existence of laws that can criminalise legitimate journalism (e.g. overly restrictive defamation laws or overly broad national security laws) must be addressed. The challenge is to promote respect for international standards for freedom of expression as well as resolutions such as UN Security Council Resolution 1738 (2006).
Fundamental to the UN Plan is the insight that the experiences in one country or region can be useful for others trying to improve the safety of journalists. Compilation and sharing of up-to-date information and best practices and conducting international missions and investigations into particular cases can be highly beneficial. However, much work is still needed to achieve an optimum level of information exchange and joint learning, and in adapting good practices to different regional and national contexts.
Points for reflection:
- What are the biggest opportunities and threats to the UN Plan of Action?
- How do threats to press freedom differ from region to region?
- How can various strategies to improve safety be replicated in different regions?
- What are the preventive mechanisms to prevent journalists from being harmed in the first place?
- How do we ensure that international standards for safety of journalists and combating impunity are respected and adopted in the country context?
- How can public awareness be developed to ensure that press freedom is widely cherished and that public opinion at all levels will not tolerate attacks on journalists?