Oslo is venue for academic launch of new UNESCO safety report

A gathering of global researchers in Oslo, Norway, last week was the occasion for UNESCO to announce its latest report on the safety of journalists and the problem of impunity.

Organised by the Media and Conflict study group at the Oslo Metropolitan University, MEKK, the conference drew academics from more than 30 countries, many of whom presented research papers about journalism safety.

Conference co-convenor, Prof Kristin Skare Orgeret, explained that along with her colleague Roy Krøvel the event was timed, like its four consecutive precedents, to link to the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists. 

The conference was also held in conjunction with the Fritt Ord Foundation and with support from Norway’s National Commission for UNESCO and the university’s Digital Journalism Research Group. Some 40 research papers were presented, and a selection will be published in a special edition of a research journal.

“There have been close to 500 killings of journalists worldwide over the five year period 2014 – 2018”, said Guy Berger, Director for Freedom of Expression and Media Development, at UNESCO.

He was presenting the findings of new UNESCO research under the label of the report on World Trends in Freedom of Expression and Media Development. Oslomet is a partner with UNESCO in promoting discussion of the World Trends Report around the world, thanks to support of the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The university’s Journalism and Media International Centre, which sponsored 12 of the participants at the IDEI conference, has presented the World Trends report in six cities around the world.

A special “In-Focus edition” of this report, titled “Intensified Attacks; New Defences”, will be launched on 18 November at the UNESCO General Conference.

Giving additional findings, Berger said impunity for the killings remained at nine of ten cases, meaning the vast majority of killers continued to walk free of legal consequence for their actions. Responses by Member States to requests by UNESCO for information about judicial process following killings of journalists had fallen from a peak of 74% in 2017, to 61% in 2019.

“The new report also paints a picture of worsening gender dimensions of safety, and a rise in disinformation as an attack on journalism, but also the growth of coalitions included academics to push back against these threats,” said Berger. 

He signaled that the common perspective of assessing safety as involving physical, psychological and digital issues could be refined so as to distinguish what was the object and the means of attack.

“This can help to show that physical violence like killings of journalists are often not only intended to eliminate the person concerned by inflicting fatal bodily harm, but are also envisioned as being a means to intimidate their colleagues,” he said.

“Likewise, digitally-mediated attacks are not necessarily only on digital infrastructure or Internet connectivity, but they can also include online-mediated harassment which seeks to cause psychological harm.”

Berger further highlighted the value that rigorous academic research could have for UNESCO’s monitoring of the safety of journalists, and he encouraged intensified investigation and publishing in the area.

“Researchers can also make good use of UNESCO’s Academic Research Agenda, plus our framework of the Journalism Safety Indicators”, he recommended.

Academics could further volunteer to be involved in national monitoring efforts around the Sustainable Development Goals, and help realise the potential of indicator 16.10 which covers safety of journalists, said the UNESCO Director.