Global call to improve the safety of journalists on the ground

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Frank La Rue, Maria Ressa, and Alice Bah Kuhnke
© UNESCO/Benchelah
07 July 2017

Action-oriented recommendations to improve the protection of journalists and reinforce the implementation of the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity were identified by key stakeholders at a meeting organized by UNESCO and OHCHR in Geneva.

The Recommendations notably urge making better use of all avenues and mechanisms available within the UN system to improve monitoring and reporting on attacks against journalists in the context of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, notably Goal 16.10 on fundamental freedoms and access to information. The Recommendations also stress the need for countries to develop safety mechanisms to protect journalists and end impunity for crimes against them.

The Recommendations were formulated in consultation with representatives of UN agencies, Member States, regional intergovernmental organizations, civil society, media, internet intermediaries and academia at the meeting of 29 June.

In a message to participants, UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova, denounced inadequate safety for journalists: “Too many journalists are imprisoned for the wrong reasons. Too many journalists are forced to flee their countries. Women journalists face particular forms of harassment. Murder remains the most tragic form of censorship. Over the last decade, one journalist was killed every four days and in more than nine out of ten cases, perpetrators went unpunished.”

The meeting came as follow-up to the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity, endorsed by the UN Chief Executives Board five years ago.

One of the main challenges highlighted by all stakeholders at the meeting was how to translate the standard-setting framework of the UN Plan of Action into national policies and practices. "We need to ‘reboot’ our thinking of the UN Plan to bridge the gap between the progress made at the international level and the situation on the ground”, said Jesper Højberg, Executive Director of International Media Support at the Geneva meeting.

Frank La Rue, UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Communication and Information appealed to governments to strengthen the implementation of the Action Plan: “This is the moment to call on every Member State to set up a national mechanism for the safety of journalists and to report on the policies of protection, prevention and justice in place to eradicate impunity for attacks against journalists.”

David Kaye, Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression, who attended the meeting along with four other UN Special Rapporteurs, declared: “Our final benchmark is the epidemic of attacks against journalists decreasing and what we are doing to make that happen."

The Minister for Culture and Democracy of Sweden, Alice Bah Kuhnke, emphasized the importance of UN leadership in addressing the complex and sensitive challenge of journalists’ safety affecting most countries.

Participants highlighted the need to reinforce UN inter-agency coordination and include safety issues in agencies’ planning and programming. They called for particular attention to gender and digital issues.

Maria Ressa, CEO of Rappler, a Philippines-based online newspaper, drew attention to new threats facing journalists: "Online attacks now occur at a frequency and scale that we've never experienced before. We need new ways to protect journalists, to deal with what technology has enabled because computational propaganda means to stifle any challenge or dissent against power," she said, underscoring the particular risks faced by women journalists online.

Further suggestions building on the consultations to date can be submitted to UNESCO by 21 July through the emails listed on the dedicated UNESCO web page.

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Read the Recommendations