A clear message: Improving the safety for all journalists

The message was clear. All journalists, media workers, and social media producers who generate a significant amount of public interest journalism, whether they are freelancer or full time staffer, from big to small media outlets, should have be safe to carry out their work. This was the main take-away from the 196th UNESCO’s Executive Board meeting which took place yesterday at its Paris Headquarters.

"With this decision we aim to enhance efforts by relevant stakeholders in order to secure a safer working environment for journalists. It also reaffirms UNESCO’s position as the global leader in the promotion of safety of journalists and tackling impunity." said Ms Annika Markovic, the Swedish Ambassador to UNESCO.

Sweden was the UNESCO Member State that successfully proposed the Decision on Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity adopted by the 196thExecutive Board of UNESCO consisting of 58 Member States. The Decision attracted 47 co-signatories, including 27 members of the Executive Board.

In the discussion at the Executive Board, there was general recognition of UNESCO’s leadership role in the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity, which is a multi-stakeholder approach to improve the safety of journalists.

The Decision taken yesterday reinforces the current work of UNESCO in relation to the UN Plan of Action. By working with all relevant stakeholders including national authorities, UN agencies, civil society groups, academia, and the media, UNESCO seeks to tackle the problems in a holistic and comprehensive manner.

One of the concrete actions called on by the Decision is to convene a conference with high level representatives of news organizations from all regions, including community media and small media outlets, and open to stakeholders. The aim would be to share good practices on the safety of journalists and more proactively highlight the issue of journalist safety.

This follows the Implementation Review Report of the UN Plan, which was finalized at the 3rd UN-Inter-Agency Meeting on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity, held in Strasbourg, France on 4 November 2014.

That Report noted that “Media houses and other actors should be encouraged to find common ground on the issue of safety and be more proactive in highlighting the issues”. It added: “Media houses should be encouraged to investigate and report on fatal and non-fatal attacks on journalists and media organizations, and follow up on impunity stories, as well as on occasions such as the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists on 2 November each year.”

The Decision also called for increased information sharing broadly, and for greater use of the UNESCO research report World Trends in Freedom of Expression and Media Development including during the Universal Periodic Review of the Human Rights Council.

It further urged strengthened cooperation with professional organizations and other actors in addressing the safety of journalists, with a specific focus on women journalists.

Capacity-building, including through projects of UNESCO’s International Programme for the Development of Communication (IPDC), was also noted.  From 2013 up to 2015, the IPDC Bureau channeled financial support to more than 30 projects promoting the safety of journalists.

The IPDC was the incubator of the UN Plan of Action, and its Intergovernmental Council also receives the bi-annual report of the UNESCO Director General on the killings of journalists and the state of judicial follow-up. 

UNESCO has been championing freedom of expression, press freedom and the improvement of safety of journalists for over two decades. Over the years, UNESCO has established various programmes to raise awareness of the issues such as World Press Freedom Day on 3 May which was first created in 1993.  

The main celebration of the World Press Freedom Day in 2015 will take place in Riga, Latvia from 2-4 May in collaboration with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Latvia. The programme includes extensive discussions on safety related issues.