UNESCO builds knowledge for protecting journalists

Delegations from UNESCO Member States heard today about concrete experiences worldwide in supporting the safety of journalists. An audience of more than 70 people benefited from expert speakers reporting on lessons within the regions of Latin America and the Caribbean, Arab States, Region, East Africa and Europe.

Colombia has evolved a system over 15 years to protect journalists, and this has helped to strongly reduce the numbers of journalists killed in that country, said Carlos Cortés. He presented a wiki that details the way the system works, highlighting the importance of a centrally-driven initiative and integration of protection with legal actions against those who attack journalists.

France’s TV5 Monde has a system in place for rapid response to danger, said Yves Bigot, Director General of the station. The broadcaster’s protection systems liaise closely with state authorities, but not at the expense of independence of journalists, he noted.  Tracking technology enables live monitoring of the safety of international correspondents in the field, who also need to report to editors at least every 12 hours.

He warned that information about local movement could sometimes be compromised by betrayals from associated staff, exposing journalists to kidnapping and ransom demands.

States have a role to play in regulating that media companies should provide protection for journalists, said Monir Zaarour of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ). He further stated that after the Charlie Hebdo killings, safety issues had entered into the minds of every journalist and their family worldwide.

Instead of relying on costly international trainers with translators to empower journalists in self-protection, the IFJ has developed a programme in Africa and the Arab states to capacitate local trainers to deliver the knowledge and skill.

The stress of working as a journalist needs to be recognised and responded to, said Kenyan psychologist Dinah Kituyi. Her experience assessed journalists in East Africa showed high rates of post-traumatic stress disorder, as well as problems of denial and emotional numbing.

Delegates from Denmark, Peru, Sweden, Brazil, Bangladesh, Algeria and Niger took the floor in response to the speakers.

The concept note for this panel states: “in a global world, to stop journalists being killed anywhere, it is necessary to stop the attacks everywhere. There should be no space for “precedents” and copycat killings; instead journalists need to be protected, and perpetrators of attacks must be brought to justice. Sharing experiences and building practical responses will give concrete effect to the basic norm that violence against journalism cannot be permitted.”

The IPDC meeting also served to launch the new UNESCO publication “Building Digital Safety for Journalists”.