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UNESCO and Council of Europe discuss the safety of journalists

The Council of Europe (CoE) is very interested to work together with UNESCO on the safety of journalists, said Andris Mellakauls, Chair of the CoE Steering Committee for Media and Information Society, on Wednesday 4 December.

He was responding to a presentation to the Steering Committee by UNESCO Director of Freedom of Expression and Media Development, Guy Berger, at a meeting at the Palais de l’Europe in Strasbourg. 

The session was part of ongoing discussions at the CoE, which is developing a draft declaration on the protection of journalism and safety of journalists, for the consideration by the organization’s Committee of Ministers.

The UNESCO presentation followed on correspondence between the two organizations about possible co-operation within the framework of the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity (letter from UNESCO to CoE; letter from CoE to UNESCO). The correspondence especially focused on jointly exploring the potential for the safety of journalists to be an indicator of development and the fragility of states. “The safety of journalists as a barometer is a very interesting idea indeed,” said Mellakauls.

In his presentation, Berger said that increased attacks on journalists might be demonstrated to be a warning sign about the growing fragility of a society more broadly. Conversely improved safety might represent a step towards stability and development. Research into the issue could “bring the potential of Internet, media and free expression issues into the development agenda, and vice versa,” said Berger.

If the research revealed the value of journalists’ safety as a development indicator, this could be convincing evidence of the importance of national monitoring of this safety, he added. In addition, he said, “Governments that take seriously their responsibilities to promote development both at home and abroad could, in this scenario, become persuaded to support media development as critical to their wider objectives.”

The CoE has taken increasing interest in the safety of journalists, most recently in a Political Declaration of Ministers at a conference in Belgrade. The declaration includes a resolution stating “we commit to contribute to the concerted international efforts to enhance the protection of journalists, in particular within the framework of the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity.”

Further discussions will take place to consider next steps about possible joint research on journalistic safety and development.