Protecting journalists on World Press Freedom Day


“The price of truth has gone up grievously,” said the former Times editor Harold Evans, when commenting on the poignant annual roll call of journalists who die on duty.

Every week we pay with the life of a reporter, a cameraman, a support worker.

But unless the life is that of a well-known western correspondent, the world barely takes notice.

At the beginning of every year, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) publishes a report on the journalists killed in this previous year. In the latest we listed 105 journalists and news media personnel killed during 2013.

The first shocking thing about these reports is to learn just how many journalists are killed.

Sadly, this is not new. If we aggregate all the statistics, we found that no fewer than 1500 media workers have died since we started counting our dead.

This works out at about two people every week.

The second shocking thing is to learn just how many of those murdered are local beat reporters.

Their work isn’t the same as by-lined war correspondents, who knowingly risk their lives to tell a story, and face everything from being mistaken for combatants to walking on a landmine.

But whatever kind of journalist loses his or her life, their death is more than a just statistic.

These people are our friends and colleagues, people who have dedicated their lives to, and paid the ultimate price for, reporting on what’s happening in the world.


Shocking tragedies

Throughout these years, there have been tragedies on a scale which have shocked even the most hardened frontline reporters.

Who could forget the horrifying turn of events at the Serena Hotel in Kabul just a few weeks ago which saw the gunning down of AFP journalist Sardar Ahmad, his wife Humaira and their two toddlers, Omar and Nelofar?

Or just one week later, also in Kabul, the cold-blooded shooting of Anja Niedringhaus, an internationally-acclaimed AP German photographer?

We will remember them, but we will also protest relentlessly, to expose the shameful failure of governments to properly investigate and prosecute their killers.

We will also call on our unions to lead the fight for justice.

UNESCO World Press Freedom Day on 3 May has been for many years a rallying point for journalists, campaigners and human rights activists to raise awareness about the need for media freedom and the right to free expression.

But in recent years, the battles have become harder and some say that press freedom globally is in retreat.

Just look at the rising number of threats, assaults, and murders faced by journalists, the worrying level of impunity, the creeping level of restrictions on free speech in Europe and the rise in self-censorship.

In recent conflicts, whether in Egypt, Syria or the Ukraine, journalists have been the first group of workers to be singled out by combatants and security forces.

Almost everywhere the battle for greater openness now has to contend with other forms of oppression, such as the war on terror or trials behind closed doors.

And for every journalist who dies, scores are wounded or imprisoned or are forced to flee their homeland to escape violent retribution.

Too many of our colleagues, some of the bravest and the most determined – those who are prepared to sacrifice their personal and professional lives for the public good – are in jail or in detention.



This year’s UNESCO World Press Freedom Day meeting in Paris will focus once again on the safety of journalists within the wider theme of the Post-2015 Development Agenda. The UN agencies will work together on the day to showcase their plan of action on safety – their latest tool to stop the killing of journalists and the accompanying impunity.

This is on top of the formidable arsenal of declarations, resolutions, covenants that UNESCO has developed over the years. It is dismaying that the instruments are there, but journalists are still waiting for effective action, having lost faith in documents and grand statements.

Time and again we see moves to enforce journalist safety derailed by governments who have no interest in protecting press freedom.

Take the UN Security Council resolution 1738 on the safety of journalists, for example.

It was unanimously passed in 2006 to considerable acclaim, as a result of a massive lobbying effort by the IFJ and many of its unions worldwide. But eight years on, it is not unfair to say that this resolution has failed in its purpose of reducing news media casualties and bringing an end to impunity.

Since this momentous vote, the IFJ has recorded over 700 deaths of journalists and support staff.

UNESCO can continue debating the need for more coherent and practical measures at a global level to combat targeted violence and to eradicate impunity as something that requires a coordinated response by states as a matter of high priority.

But the major hindrance for the protection of journalists derives not from the scope of these rights but from implementation deficits as many of these instruments are non-binding.

It is left to us unions to press hard on the neuralgic nerve of impunity states and hold them responsible for their negligence and, in many cases, complicity.

We do it not just once a year, but every time they acquiesce or sanction, or turn a blind eye to the murder of a journalist.