Strong consensus on the safety of journalists at the IPDC Council

The consensus that emerged from the 29th UNESCO IPDC Council debate last week signaled two main observations. First, the safety of journalists is an issue that affects all of us and that it is unacceptable that journalists are being killed for doing their job. Secondly, everyone can and should do more to combat the alarmingly high rate of impunity for crimes against journalists.

The 39-member Intergovernmental Council of UNESCO’s International Programme for the Development for Communication (IPDC ) has emerged in recent years as  a laboratory of ideas on journalists’ safety. As highlighted by Mr Getachew Engida, Deputy Director-General of UNESCO to Council, the IPDC is also the birthplace of the landmark UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity.

At its 29th Session on 21 November in Paris, the Council welcomed the fourth Director-General’s Report on the Safety of Journalists and the Danger of Impunity which tracks the status of judicial inquiries of killings of journalists, media workers, and social media producers who are engaged in journalistic activities and who are killed or targeted in their line of duty, as condemned by the Director-Genera

The Council’s Decision on the report urged “all Member States to encourage the inclusion of freedom of expression and its corollary press freedom in the post-2015 sustainable development goals, in particular the safety of journalists and issue of impunity as a key gateway to achieving Goal 16 which seeks to promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development and access to justice for all through achieving a reduction in violence and crime”.

However, the Council also noted with regret that, in two-thirds of the cases in which journalists have been killed, no information has been submitted to the Director-General despite requests to the Member States concerned to voluntarily provide updates.

According to the Report, no information was provided on 382 out of 593 cases of killings of journalists which happened between 2006 and 2013.

The IPDC decision urges Member States to promote the safety of journalists by taking advantage of the knowledge, experiences and opportunities available through participation in the UN Plan of Action. It notes that the Plan encourages “the development of national processes and mechanisms involving all stakeholders to achieve an environment for the safe exercise of free expression”.

The newly adopted Decision further acknowledged the research report “World Trends in Freedom of Expression and Media Development” from 2014 by UNESCO and in particular Chapter 4 on Safety. It welcomed “the continuation of such research as a UNESCO knowledge resource for governments, media, academia, international community and civil society”.

The support for journalists’ safety by Member States on the IPDC Council is being echoed at the UN General Assembly where its Third Committee has also renewed its commitment on the issues by adopting a new Resolution on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity at its 69th session. This Resolution, which has still to go to the General Assembly,  calls on all stake holders to cooperate with UNESCO and to active exchange information to support the implementation of the UN Plan of Action to improve safety of journalists and to end impunity.