Doha Centre for Media Freedom’s General Director Jan Keulen and Dr. Abdul Jalil Alami, Chair of the Executive Committee, will be participating at the 2nd UN Inter-Agency Meeting on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity on 22 and 23 November in Vienna.
The event will be convened by UNESCO and co-hosted by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
More than 600 journalists and media workers have been killed in the last ten years. In other words, on average every week a journalist loses his or her life for bringing news and information to the public. To end violence against journalists and to combat impunity, the United Nations Chief Executives Board approved the first ever UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity, in April 2012, in a process spearheaded by UNESCO.
Why are journalists being silenced?
In the first ten months of 2012, the Director-General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova, has condemned 100 killings of journalists, media workers and bloggers, a dramatic increase compared to previous years. Furthermore, the Director-General also noted in her Report on the Safety of Journalists and the Danger of Impunity that many more media professionals suffered non-fatal attacks, which means, being wounded, raped, abducted, harassed, intimidated, or illegally arrested. The same report also highlighted the problem of impunity, which is when the perpetrators of the crimes are never brought to justice. According to the information received by UNESCO, less than ten percent of all the cases included in the report led to the conviction of those who committed the crimes. There is a lot at stake in many of the issues reported by journalists. War is the most dangerous to cover. But typically, in most cases, the murdered journalists were not reporting in armed conflict situations, but on local stories in their home towns, particularly related to corruption and other illegal activities such as organized crime and drugs.
Investigating human rights issues is also increasingly being threatened, according to the 2012 report of the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human right defenders, Margaret Sekaggya. Even reporting on environmental issues can sometimes be fatal for journalists.
In other words, they are the kind of news that every citizen such as you and I need to know. As the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crimes (UNODC) reports, “crime is fuelling corruption, infiltrating business and politics, and hindering development. And it is undermining governance by empowering those who operate outside the law”. In fact, the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Frank La Rue, focused his 2012 report on this reality, where he argued that “local journalists continue to face daily challenges in situations that have not reached the threshold of an armed conflict, but may characterized by violence, lawlessness and repression”
It does not work to have a journalist investigate a corruption case of a powerful politician or of a drug cartel only to receive death threats also delivered to family members. Worse, of course, too many of these threats go beyond intimidation into elimination of the messengers – the most brutal deprivation of the public of its right to know. Each silenced journalist is an attack on the human right to free expression, which is a key enabling right for a strong democracy, education, cleaner environment, health, and a transparent business sector.
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