When those who attack journalists know that the intended oblivion will be prevented, the incentive of killings and intimidation is undercut.
This is the message of this year’s #TruthNeverDies campaign, to mark the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists on 2 November. The campaign’s publicity materials were developed through a partnership with DDB.
Explaining the rationale, the Organization’s Director for Freedom of Expression and Media Development, Guy Berger said: “UNESCO is encouraging people, that is the public, journalists and politicians alike, to keep alive the project and the memory of assassinated or intimidated reporters.”
He was the keynote speaker at a conference held in the Italian Senate on 22 October, titled: “Threatened journalists, attackers unpunished in Italy and in the world,” and was convened by civil society organization Ossigeno.
Other speakers included Senator Pietro Grasso, and governmental vice secretaries Vito Crimi and Luigi Gaetti, as well as the Angelo Marcello Cardani who chairs the communications regulator AGCOM.
Michele Albawese described life as a journalist under police protection, while strongly criticizing those who tried to undermine the contribution of journalists to democracy. Nadia Monetti highlighted difficulties in reporting threats to the police.
Other speakers highlighted the extent of threats against journalists in Italy, but also hailed a court judgement which found perpetrators not just guilty of assault but also for interrupting a public service.
Ossigeno’s President Alberto Spampinato told how the NGO had monitored and signalled the many acts of intimidation, threats and reprisals that targeted hundreds of journalists every year. He cautioned that Ossigeno’s work should not be taken for granted, and proposed that a sustainable official monitoring mechanism be established.
Berger’s remarks referenced the latest report of the UNESCO Director General to the Intergovernmental Council of the International Programme for the Development of Communications, highlighting that just 11% of killings of journalists worldwide in the past ten years have been judicially resolved.
He emphasised the need to prevent attacks through creating a climate in which journalists can operate without fear. To this end, he said, although the press should never be above criticism, political leaders should follow the call by the UN Human Rights Council to avoid harsh rhetorical attacks on journalists.
Conversely, added the UNESCO director, “when leaders are silent in the face of attacks on journalists, this can be taken as consent by those committing such atrocities – and simply reinforces the perpetrator’s objective of creating oblivion”.
He cited the Human Rights Council’s call on governments to “publicly, unequivocally and systematically condemning violence, intimidation, threats and attacks against journalists and media workers”.
Berger warned against a vacuum in verifiable facts and evidence-based argument, as a result of silencing and intimidation of journalists. Lies, cover-ups, rumour and propaganda would rush in, he said. “The garden of information becomes overwhelmed with the weeds of disinformation and misinformation.”
All this is why safety of journalists and an end to impunity is more important today than ever, he concluded.