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Journalists’ safety should be ensured

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In October 2012 CFOM, University of Sheffield and the BBC College of Journalism held a symposium for global media representatives on responses and input to the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity. Further condemning impunity and urging greater measures be taken to ensure the safety of media workers, the symposium drafted the London Statement, which has now been signed by more than forty media organizations.

Chinese Social Sciences Today (CSTT): Professor Harrison, could you please elaborate on the nature and function “London Statement”? 

Jackie Harrison: The “London Statement” is an expression of the news media’s concern and determination to scrutinize the actions of governments to counter the threats to news reporting. The Statement was signed by representatives of 46 leading media organizations and is an 8-point document focusing on the need for media and others to scrutinize governments and particularly to end the ability of state officials to allow crimes against journalists to go unpunished.  This demand for action by responsible governments to end the heavy toll of journalists’ deaths and impunity was described as unprecedented by Guy Berger, UNESCO’s Director for Freedom of Expression.

The Statement was handed to Janis Karklins, Assistant Director-General of UNESCO and the international community for urgent consideration on November 22nd, 2012 at the start of the UN’s 2nd Inter-agency meeting held in Vienna. What was also interesting and very welcomed in Vienna was that the leading global news media membership organizations (WAN-IFRA and IPI) said that they are committed to building on the Statement in order to support the implementation of the goals of the UN Plan with regard to the safety of journalists. As the Chair of the CFOM, I was particularly pleased by this development since it goes some way to establishing a mechanism for supporting the UN’s desire for periodic “reviews and assessments” of the implementation of their action plan with regard to the safety of journalists and the matter of impunity.

CSST: What are the reasons for the high death toll among journalists? Have any international laws been enacted to curb this violence?

Jackie Harrison: The range of violence against news journalists occupies a spectrum that covers state sponsored killings to states establishing–through the use of law and psychological intimidation—a compliant and self-censoring news media.  In 2012 matters were particularly bad for news journalism.

The unanimous adoption in 2006 of UN Security Council Resolution 1738 on the safety of media workers in war zones raised high expectations, but has so far brought few tangible results.  The landmark resolution seemed to promise firm action by the international community to punish and deter those responsible for targeting journalists in areas of conflict, but journalists have continued to be attacked and sometimes killed with impunity by armies in Iraq, and now in Syria and Palestine, as they were in the past elsewhere. No prosecutions or threats of punitive action have resulted from 1738, despite the great efforts required by international media and friendly governments to get it passed.

Matters are no better outside of war zones. Over the last decade there has been a sharp and continuing increase of cases of deliberate, cold-blooded killings of journalists with the express purpose of preventing them from reporting on criminality, corruption or abuses of political power in various forms. Impunity kills by encouraging more killing because the risks of violent attacks on journalists are seen to be negligible to the perpetrator with the consequence that targeted news journalists are deprived of justice or any form of redress.  UNESCO’s worldwide audit of judicial follow-ups after the journalists’ killings between 2006 and 2009 documented 244 cases of violent deaths of journalists in 36 countries during that period. Its research starkly highlighted the lack of follow-ups: out of all those cases, it was only able to verify successful convictions in a total of eight cases so far, based on reports from the states concerned.

CSST: What are your suggestions for ensuring the safety of media workers?

Jackie Harrison: There are ways to protect media workers, but all measures require commitments from different actors, which bring problems of implementation and success.  Major press, broadcasting and online media organizations now need to start to demand effective safeguards for media freedom through the arenas of international policy and law, as well as through practical safety measures on the ground.

There are some examples of success and there many examples of media and journalists’ associations or unions, such as the Russian Union of Journalists and Glasnost Defence Foundation and the Philippines Union of Journalists, etc., as well as non-government organizations (NGOs) working effectively, often under extremely difficult or dangerous conditions, to protect media workers.

Worldwide, senior editors are sharing their views about what they have learned from their experiences dealing with the deaths or persecution of their reporters or support staff in dangerous parts of the world. And there are also initiatives to develop journalism curricula in such as way as to both educate future journalists about the exercise of impunity and its causes in different parts of the world, as well as to provide practical training to ensure they can remain as safe as possible when reporting on contested topics or from areas of violence and conflict.


Interviewed by Zhang Zhe, a reporter from Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

Chinese version appeared in Chinese Social Sciences Today, No. 401, January 7, 2013.


Edited by Feng Daimei

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