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Devising effective mechanism to end crimes against journalists

By Kabir Alabi Garba
02 November 2016   |   12:50 am
Today, Nigeria will join the global movement of media groups to mark the 2016 edition of the United Nations’ International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists.
Lanre Arogundade

Lanre Arogundade

Today, Nigeria will join the global movement of media groups to mark the 2016 edition of the United Nations’ International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists.

Being powered by the International Press Centre (IPC), Lagos, the roundtable, under the auspices of the Nigerian Journalists Safety Initiative (NJSI) and the Open Society Foundation (OSF), will focus on the significance of a free and safe environment for journalists and other media professionals in Nigeria to practise their trade.

Director of IPC, Lanre Arogundade says the commemorative event will “draw attention of media and institutional stakeholders to addressing the impunity of attack and assault of journalists.”

The choice of the theme, Arogundade explains further is in response to observations by the IPC’s media monitoring and Journalists safety help desk, indicating that “journalists in Nigeria are continually subjected to various forms of attacks, mostly in the course of their professional duty.”

He notes, “Pursuant to the above, the media roundtable shall have panel and interactive discussion on the roles of media stakeholders, security agencies and government functionaries in ensuring the protection of the rights and safety of journalists. In this regard, the roundtable shall have guest contributions from the President of the Nigerian Guild of Editors, Mrs. Funke Egbemode and representatives of the Lagos State Commissioner for Information and Strategy as well as the Lagos State Commissioner of Police, including contributions from the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), Lagos, top media professionals journalists, editors and media support groups.”

Coming on the heels of the 30th anniversary of the assassination of the frontline journalist and founding editor-in-chief of the defunct Newswatch magazine, Dele Giwa which was held in Lagos on Wednesday, October 19, 2016, it is instructive that today’s roundtable also spotlights culture of impunity that has continued to characterize journalists’ efforts at performing their responsibility of disseminating news and information for the overall well being of the society.

Indeed, the thematic engagement – Safety of journalists and culture of impunity in Africa – at the 30th anniversary of Giwa’s murder facilitated two weeks ago by the Lagos chapter of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) was not only apt, it was also timely.

This theme, Chairman, Lagos NUJ, Deji Elumoye had explained, reflected “the recurring trend of brutality against journalists on the continent.” The culture of impunity, Elumoye had noted further, persists due to the level of mistrust between the media and the state actors who have a lot to hide having squandered state resources they are entrusted with. So, it’s the fear of the unknown because an average African leader has skeletons in his cupboard.”

On whether there could be any role Freedom of Information (FoI) Act could play in unraveling the mystery surrounding Dele Giwa’s murder 30 years after, Lagos NUJ head had said, “It’s a matter of mking necessary requests. We are looking at applying the FoI Act to revisit not only Dele Giwa’s killing but that of Godwin Agbroko, Bagauda Kaltho, Bayo Ohu and other journalists killed in the course of their duties in the last three decades.”

The United Nations General Assembly adopted Resolution A/RES/68/163 at its 68th session in 2013 which proclaimed every November 2 as the ‘International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists’ (IDEI). The Resolution urged Member States to implement definite measures countering the present culture of impunity. The date was chosen in commemoration of the assassination of two French journalists in Mali on November 2, 2013.

The landmark resolution condemns all attacks and violence against journalists and media workers. It also urges Member States to do their utmost to prevent violence against journalists and media workers, to ensure accountability, bring to justice perpetrators of crimes against journalists and media workers, and ensure that victims have access to appropriate remedies. It further calls upon States to promote a safe and enabling environment for journalists to perform their work independently and without undue interference.

The focus on impunity of this resolution stems from the worrying situation that over the past decade, more than 800 journalists have been killed for bringing news and information to the public. In 2015 alone, the Director-General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), Irina Bokova condemned the killing of 115 journalists, media workers, and social media producers of public interest journalism. In 2012, the deadliest year for journalists, 123 cases were condemned.

These figures do not include the many more journalists who on a daily basis suffer from non-fatal attacks, including torture, enforced disappearances, arbitrary detention, intimidation and harassment in both conflict and non-conflict situations. Furthermore, there are specific risks faced by women journalists including sexual attacks.

Worryingly, less than one in ten cases committed against media workers over the past decade has led to a conviction. This impunity emboldens the perpetrators of the crimes and at the same time has a chilling effect on society including journalists themselves. Impunity breeds impunity and feeds into a vicious cycle.

On November 17 this year, the 39 Member States of UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Council of the International Programme for Development of Communication (IPDC) will receive the biennial report of the UNESCO Director-General on the Safety of Journalists and the Danger of Impunity. The report provides an overview of killings of journalists condemned by UNESCO’s Director-General on 2014-2015, i.e. 98 in 2014 and 115 in 2015. The report also includes recent information from Member States as received by the Director-General regarding the current state of judiciary investigations about killings committed between 2006 and 2015.

According to the 2014 UNESCO Director-General’s Report on the Safety of Journalists and the Danger of Impunity, less than seven percent of the 593 cases of killings of journalists from 2006-2013 have been resolved. A quarter of these cases are considered as “ongoing” referring to their continued investigations over the various stages of the judicial system. In 60 percent of the cases, no information on the judicial process was made available to UNESCO notwithstanding the Director-General’s requests for such.

When attacks on journalists remain unpunished, a very negative message is sent that reporting the “embarrassing truth” or “unwanted opinions” will get ordinary people in trouble. Furthermore, society loses confidence in its own judiciary system which is meant to protect everyone from attacks on their rights. Perpetrators of crimes against journalists are thus emboldened when they realize they can attack their targets without ever facing justice.

Society as a whole suffers from impunity. The kind of news that gets “silenced” is exactly the kind that the public needs to know. Information is quintessential in order to make the best decisions in their lives, be it economic, social or political. This access to reliable and quality information is the very cornerstone of democracy, good governance, and effective institutions.

IDEI provides a strategic opportunity to all stakeholders to focus public attention on the importance of ending impunity for crimes against journalists. It also opens new possibilities to draw in constituencies whose primary interests may be other than the safety of journalists. For example, given the symbolic significance of journalists to the wider issue of impunity and justice, all of those who work in the rule of law system, such as people involved in legal and judicial processes, can be reached out to. Others who are concerned with public participation and citizen’s rights to speak out on various issues such as corruption or domestic violence will also share an interest in the resolution on combating impunity of attacks on journalists, who by definition are actors in the public eye, and whose situation sends a signal to society at large.

Significantly, the Finlandia Declaration of the 2016 World Press Freedom Day conference held at Helsinki in Finland acknowledges “that violations of press freedom also have an adverse impact on the right to information, including by the arbitrary blocking of access to online information, restricting expression online, and arbitrarily intruding on digital privacy, as well as the killing, kidnapping, enforced disappearance, arbitrary detention, torture, deportations and other violations of journalists, associated media personnel, trade unionists and human rights advocates.”

In particular, it called on journalists, civil societies and internet intermediaries to “promote the safety of newsrooms and journalists online and offline through training, ICT applications, safety protocols and systems, as well the importance of confidentiality of journalistic sources in the digital age.”

It is in recognition of such far-reaching consequences of impunity, especially of crimes against journalists, that the UN declared November 2 as the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists (IDEI). IDEI is of great significance to UN bodies, governments, the media, and to civil society as well as to potential new stakeholders where hitherto there have not been occasions to connect issues in mutual synergy. It also contributes to the new United Nations (UN) 2030 Development Agenda, and in particular Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 16 to promote just, peaceful and inclusive societies, which includes key points relevant to press freedom, access to information, safety of journalists and the rule of law.