Building and strengthening national mechanisms for the safety of journalists

25 May 2018

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Afghanistan meetings on safety mechanisms, April 2018.
© UNESCO

The Dutch-supported IPDC project on Building and Strengthening National Mechanisms for the Safety of Journalists continues to achieve significant results in the field, with more countries committing to establish protection mechanisms for journalists.

In launching the project a year ago, the Dutch Ambassador to UNESCO, Lionel Veer said,  "The Netherlands government wants to support the important work of UNESCO in the fight against impunity and strengthen the safety of journalists and in general the protection of freedom of speech and promotion of access to information”.

Since then, the project has seen national initiatives in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan and regional ones in Latin America and East Africa grow and engage governments and local authorities, journalists and media houses, as well as civil society, to devise local actions to protect journalists, thus contributing to implementing the UN Plan of Action on the  Safety of Journalists and Issue of Impunity.

In Iraq during World Press Freedom Day celebrations, the Iraqi Journalists’ Syndicate (IJS), together with UNESCO and the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), focused on the expected announcement by the government of establishing the national mechanism. Louise Haxthausen, Director of the UNESCO Office for Iraq said, “I welcome the upcoming establishment of a strengthened national mechanism for the prevention of and protection against threats and attacks on freedom of expression. This mechanism will enable more swift and effective investigations of crimes against journalists.”

In Latin America, an online platform on the stories of the crimes against journalists was launched in April 2018 (in Spanish) in partnership with the Press and Society Institute (IPYS). The repository presents an investigative series on four crimes against journalists in Brazil, Colombia, Guatemala and Peru. A short video promoting the platform garnered more than 162,000 views, engaging the public in the importance of journalists’ safety and having free and open societies with access to information. Guilherme Canela, UNESCO Communication and Information Adviser in UNESCO/Montevideo, explained the rationale behind the new platform: "Telling these stories is essential for the authorities to be accountable for what is being done to prevent, protect and seek justice, but the very fact of telling the stories is in itself a contribution in the fight against impunity".

The success of the East Africa region’s programme has seen the launch of national dialogues in number of states since the initial conference, including Rwanda, and a commitment to the Plan of Action through the Nairobi Declaration, calling on governments to establish national mechanisms for the safety of journalists in Eastern Africa countries.  Managing director of Women in the Media Platform in Rwanda, Ms Regine Akalikumathua, said, “The fact that we had government representatives, journalists and NGOs from Rwanda in attendance meant that we can now work together to make policies that protect journalists in our home country”.  Since the conference, Rwanda has committed to the process by nominating a government focal point on the safety of journalists. 

In another positive step towards the implementation of the Plan of Action, the African Union, UNESCO and the Federation of African Journalists proposed an African Union Working Group for Safety of Journalists, to better coordinate support and monitor the progress of member states in implementing the Action plan through national mechanisms during World Press Freedom Day activities in Ghana in May, 2018.

Afghanistan has seen a number of setbacks with journalists’ safety, after 11 journalists were killed in early May 2018. UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay condemned the attacks, saying “These heinous attacks highlight the great risks journalists take in the performance of their duties. Those responsible for such crimes must be brought to justice”.  Through the Dutch-supported IPDC project, the UNESCO Afghanistan Office and local partners such as the Afghanistan Journalists Safety Committee, have been working with the Afghan authorities, including the ministries of the Interior, Defence, Foreign Affairs, the National Security Council and the Attorney General’s office, who have agreed to work on this issue through IPDC’s dedicated monitoring and reporting mechanism (UNESCO Director-General’s Report to the IPDC).

The International Programme for the Development of Communication (IPDC) is the only multilateral forum in the UN system designed to mobilize the international community to discuss and promote media development in developing countries. Since its creation in 1980, the Programme has successfully mobilized over US$110 million to strengthen the capacity of media in 140 countries. Since 2008, the safety of journalists has been a priority for the Programme.

For more information on the IPDC and its role in the Safety of Journalists, please visit: https://en.unesco.org/programme/ipdc/initiatives.