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UNESCO adopts decision on safety of journalists

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Audrey Azoulay

156 journalists were killed worldwide in 2018-1019
• One journalist killed every four days in the last decade
• World Press Freedom Conference (WPFC) begins in The Hague

A united Nations Educational Scientific Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) committee has adopted a decision on the safety of journalists, which encourages member states to “enhance the capacity of national judicial training institutes, prosecution services and law enforcement agencies.”

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The 39-member states of the Intergovernmental Council of the International Programme for the Development of Communications (IPDC) reached their decision on November 26 at their 32nd session.

The council adopted its decision in response to the UNESCO Director-General’s “Report on the Safety of Journalists and the Danger of Impunity.” This is a unique report within the UN system that includes information sourced directly from member states about statistics on impunity for fatal attacks on journalists and actions taken to support the safety of media workers.

UNESCO, over the years, has intensified its collaboration with member states and judicial actors to equip them with the necessary skills to boost the safety of journalists and fight against impunity for crimes against media workers.

This body of work also comprises a number of Memoranda of Understandings, with international and regional courts such as the African Court on Human and People’s Rights, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and the ECOWAS Court of Justice.

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The recent IPDC Decision further urged member states to “consider the use of UNESCO’s existing knowledge resources in addressing impunity and the safety of journalists, especially addressing the security of journalists covering protests.”

Such knowledge resources include toolkits for the judiciary in Africa and Latin America, a handbook for training of security forces and a handbook on fostering the relationship between security forces and journalists. In response to rising numbers of journalists injured while covering protests, UNESCO recently published a report on the safety of journalists covering the protest.

Main findings of the 2020 Director-General’s Report include: 156 journalists were killed worldwide in 2018-1019, overall, over the past decade, a journalist has been killed on average every four days, only 13 per cent of cases recorded by UNESCO since 2006 can be considered resolved and more journalists are being killed in countries not currently experiencing conflict.

UNESCO yearly requests information from member states about the judicial follow-up of killings of journalists, which goes into the UNESCO Director-General’s Report as well as UNESCO’s online observatory of killed journalists.

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The UN agency said in a statement that this year, the Director-General’s request to member states was met “with an increased reaction rate, after a decrease during the two previous years. Member States expressed appreciation of this increase but also stressed that at a level of 87 per cent of cases remaining unpunished, governments urgently need to bolster internal mechanisms fighting against impunity.

“A number of member states (including Argentina, Austria, Denmark, Finland, Lithuania, Netherlands, Russian Federation, Sweden, United Kingdom) during the Council meeting spoke about the seriousness of non-lethal attacks and assaults on journalists, and expressed a desire for the IPDC mechanism to address types of violence beyond killings.”

Meanwhile, the 2020 World Press Freedom Conference (WPFC), organised in collaboration with the Kingdom of the Netherlands, holds in The Hague, a city known for its role in international peace and justice. The conference will hold from December 9 and 10 in the run-up to the yearly World Press Freedom Day (WPFD) on May 3, which celebrates the fundamental principles of press freedom and freedom of expression.

The theme of this year’s celebrations is “Journalism Without Fear or Favour” and it brings together those active in the field of press freedom and the public to stand up for a free and independent media. WPFD 2020 is the call for all to inspire positive change and to protect journalism against persisting and new forms of control. Journalism today faces many threats from actors trying to capture or intimidate media in order to influence the information flows. WPFD 2020 is about the successes of the growing movement to enhance professional journalism and its foundation in independent media institutions.

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Through multiple sessions, the WPFC 2020 will shed light on different aspects of the overall theme, “Journalism Without Fear or Favour”. This includes opportunities to understand and debate topics related to media capture, diversity in the press, journalism in a digital age and how to move forward in protecting and promoting bold and independent journalistic work.

The UNESCO Director-General, Audrey Azoulay, as well as high-level government representatives will attend the WPFC in the Hague. Together with representatives of civil society, media organisations, professional associations, academia and the judiciary, they will put media independence on the international agenda by inspiring, educating and by mobilising people into action.

Tomorrow, the UNESCO Director-General will award the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize to an individual or organization that has made an outstanding contribution to the defence of press freedom.

On December 10, the event will feature the first-ever World Press Freedom Festival that includes cultural events and performances such as workshops and film screenings. The Festival is dedicated to wider celebrations of WPFD and to a broader audience. It invites youths and students to participate in the celebrations of press freedom and explore how they contribute to the future of free and independent media.

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