Building peace in the minds of men and women

Academics strengthen research into safety of journalists

10 July 2019


Tracking attacks on journalists (L:R) Albana Shala, Guy Berger, Diana Maynard, Sara Torsner and Jackie Harrison

Harnessing computing power to research attacks on journalists is on the cards. This is according to experts speaking in Madrid this week at the annual conference of the International Association for Media and Communications Research. 

The academics behind the initiative are from the Centre for Freedom of the Media (CFOM) at the University of Sheffield. They are led by Prof Jackie Harrison, UNESCO Chair on Media Freedom, Journalism Safety and the Issue of Impunity at the university.

Their initiative is framed in the context of the Sustainable Development Goals, which recognize among other indicators for progress, one that enables the measurement of changes in the state of safety of journalists.
Elaborating on the new advances in the academic contribution to this monitoring, Prof Harrison said it was important to address data gaps, using local data, developing an events-based methodology, and evolving the infrastructure for pooling data from different sources.

Her team member Dr Sara Torsner explained that their efforts aimed to generate sophisticated data categorisation and disaggregation, with the objective of merging data from different sources, harmonising data categories, and using additional information from descriptive text sources.

A further CFOM colleague, Dr Diana Maynard, showed the IAMCR session that complex events like assassinations of journalists could be assessed through computerized data gathering and analysis of a range of sources. 

The results offered comparable categories of attacks that were integrated with recognized classifications such as those the ICCS codes of the UN Office of Drugs and Crime, and those of HURIDOCs.
Maynard affirmed: “This outcome enables us to investigate patterns, trends and early warnings, leading to a better understanding of the contexts in which threats to journalists can escalate into a killing undertaken with impunity.”

The CFOM work is structured in relation to SDG 16 which calls for states to promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels. 

Within this Goal, the safety indicator, which is numbered 16.10.1 by the UN Statistics Commission, was elaborated during the session by UNESCO’s Guy Berger, Director for Freedom of Expression and Media Development. 

“UNESCO tracks this indicator globally by tallying the numbers of killings of journalists and the cases that are judicially resolved, and reports the results into the SDG monitoring process,” he said. 

Resolutions at the UN General Assembly, the UN Human Rights Council and UNESCO encourage states to include 16.10.1 in their annual monitoring, as well as in the periodic Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs) under the UN’s High Level Political Forum (HLPF), said Berger.

“At national level, a lot more extensive monitoring is possible beyond the global picture which concentrates on killings and impunity. For example, national monitoring can cover online harassment of journalists which is happening in many countries even where journalists are not facing the danger of being murdered,” he noted. 

Next week, UNESCO will have a side event on monitoring journalistic safety at the HLPF, convened in conjunction with the Lithuanian delegation to the UN and other members of the Group of Friends of Safety of Journalists in New York missions.
Albana Shala, of Free Press Unlimited, and former chair of UNESCO’s International Programme for the Development of Communication, responded to the presentations in the session. “Academic research can help our work in civil society’s monitoring of safety, and I encourage researchers to include monitoring of impunity as well,” she said.