Prashanth GN

Ending impunity for crimes against journalists is the need of the hour.

“If we do not protect journalists, our ability to remain informed and make evidence-based decisions is severely hampered. When journalists cannot do their jobs in safety, we lose an important defence against the pandemic of misinformation and disinformation that has spread online,”- UN Secretary-General António Guterres


Aptly, the Norwegian Nobel Committee has decided to award the Nobel Peace Prize for 2021 to journalists Maria Ressa and Dmitry Muratov for their efforts to protect the right to free speech, which is a basic requirement for democracy and long-term peace. Ms Ressa and Mr Muratov were recognised for their brave and noble fight for free expression in the Philippines and Russia, respectively. At the very same time, they are spokespersons of all reporters who fight for this perfection in a world where democracy and press freedom are under increasing threat.


Over the last 14 years (2006-2019), nearly 1,200 journalists have already died for their work in reporting news and disseminating information to the public. In 9 out of 10 cases, the assassins go unpunished, and impunity breeds further killings and is frequently a sign of rapidly deteriorating conflict and a break - down of judicial systems.


These figures do not include the many more journalists who face threats daily, such as torture, enforced disappearances, arbitrary detention, intimidation, and harassment in both conflict and non-conflict situations. Furthermore, women journalists face unique dangers, such as sexual assault. Worryingly, only one out of every ten cases involving media workers over the last decade resulted in a conviction. This impunity emboldens the perpetrators of the crimes while also chilling society, including journalists. Impunity breeds impunity, perpetuating a vicious cycle.


When strikes on journalists go unprosecuted, it sends a very bad message that trying to report the "embarrassing truth" or "unwanted opinions" will land ordinary people in danger. Moreover, society loses faith in its legal system, which is supposed to protect everyone from violations of their rights. Crimes against journalists are thus emboldened when perpetrators realise they can fight their targets without facing justice.


The United Nations General Assembly proclaimed November 2 as the ‘International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists’ in General Assembly Resolution A/RES/68/163. The Resolution urged the Member States to implement definite measures countering the present culture of impunity. The Resolution urged the Member States to take concrete steps to combat the current culture of impunity. The date was chosen to commemorate the murder of 2 French reporters in Mali on November 2, 2013. Since then, global commemorations of the Day (November 2) have provided a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to raise awareness and promote dialogue among all characters involved in combating impunity for crimes against journalists. This historic resolution condemns all forms of violence and threats to journalists and media workers. It also urges the Member States to do everything possible to prevent violence against journalists and media workers, to ensure adherence, to bring culprits of crimes against journalists and media workers to justice, and to provide victims with appropriate remedies.


The major highlight marking the 2021 International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists will be a high-level roundtable discussion in a fusion format arranged by Ossigeno per l'informazione on 3 November 2021 at the Syracuse International Institute for Criminal Justice and Human Rights in Syracuse, Italy. The event will provide a forum for dialogue between prosecutors and reporters on prevention and protection initiatives to tackle journalist safety, as well as highlight the role of prosecutorial offerings in investigating not only murders but also violent threats against reporters. The UNESCO Director-Report General's response to a request from UNESCO's International Programme for the Development of Communication's 39 Member States (IPDC).


Report on the Safety of Journalists and the Danger of Impunity


The Report is a one-of-a-kind mechanism within the UN system for tracking journalist assassination attempts. It was first published in 2008 as a result of an IPDC Intergovernmental Council Decision, and it has been renewed at subsequent sessions in 2010, 2012, 2014, 2016, 2018, and 2020. These Decisions request that the Director-General of UNESCO can provide the explanatory report which includes responses from the concerned Member States regarding judicial investigations into journalist killings. The Intergovernmental Council of the IPDC receives the report every two years. The Report was presented at the Council's Session. This is an occasion for the Member States to take stock of global developments and discuss challenges linked to promoting the safety of journalists and combating impunity. The UNESCO IPDC Council's Decisions on the Safety of Journalists and the Danger of Impunity have appeared every two years - 2008, 2010, 2012, 2014, 2016, 2018 and 2020.


Key findings of the Report

 

- In 2018-2019, UNESCO recorded a total of 156 killings of journalists worldwide. Overall, over the past decade, a journalist has been killed on average every four days. The year 2019 shows the lowest death toll recorded by UNESCO in the last decade with 57 deaths.

- 2020 saw a slight decrease in the rate of impunity, with a percentage of 13% of cases worldwide reported as resolved in comparison to 12% in 2019, and 11% in 2018.

- In 2019, the highest number of fatal attacks occurred in the Latin America and the Caribbean region, representing 40% of the total killings registered worldwide, followed by the Asia and the Pacific region with 26% of killings.

- In 2020, 71 % of Member States reacted to the Director-General’s request, marking a 10% increase in comparison to the previous year.


Current situation in Asia


Most journalists were killed in countries with no armed conflict: In 2018-2019, 89 journalists were killed in countries with no armed (54 in 2018; and 35 in 2019). The number killed in countries with armed conflict was 67 (45 in 2018 and 22 in 2019).

The Day (November 2) highlights the low global conviction rate for violent crimes against journalists and media workers, which seems estimated to be one in every ten cases. Because they play a huge role in informing and persuading the public on crucial social issues, impunity for threats on them has a particularly negative effect, restricting public awareness and constructive debate.


Afghanistan 


According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 55 journalists have been killed in Afghanistan since 1992. CPJ has confirmed two journalist deaths in Afghanistan in 2021. Mina Khairi of Afghanistan's Ariana News TV was killed in June. Danish Siddiqui, 38, a Reuters photojournalist, was recently killed in a Taliban attack while covering the terrorist group's reconquest of the country this July.

On July 16, Siddiqui & 2 Afghan commandos were killed in a Taliban attack while forces attempted to retake the key border town of Spin Boldak. According to Reuters, he was taking photos in the bazaar when he was hit by rocket shrapnel. He'd been there in the country just for a few days. 


India


According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, approximately 55 journalists were killed in India between 1992 and 2021. Among the notable names were the assassinations of Karnataka journalist Gauri Lankesh and Kashmir journalist Shujaat Bhukari. According to Reporters, India has been classified as a "negative" country for journalism and is one of the most violent places for journalists. According to Without Borders' 2021 World Press Freedom Index, India ranks 142 in terms of press freedom. India has been ranked 142 out of 180 countries on the Index for the second year in a row. 


Asia


Among India’s neighbours, Nepal is ranked 106th, Sri Lanka is ranked 127th, and Myanmar was ranked 140th before the military coup. Pakistan and Bangladesh, on the other hand, were ranked 145 and 152, respectively, on the index. China (177), North Korea (179), and Turkmenistan are also at the bottom of the list (178).


"Journalism, the main vaccine against disinformation, is completely or partially blocked in 73 per cent of the 180 countries ranked by the organisation," according to the 2021 report. It went on to say that "only 12 of the Index's 180 countries (7 per cent) can claim to provide a favourable environment for journalism." 


Norway has once again come out on top, followed by Finland and Denmark, securing the top three spots. Eritrea, located in the Horn of Africa, ranks 180th.


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