Knight Center
Knight Center


UN action plan offers strategy for protecting journalists

Highlighting the need to celebrate journalists' work as way of creating a country- and world-wide atmosphere respecting freedom of expression, Guy Berger, director of UNESCO's Division of Freedom of Expression and media development, briefly outlined the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity during the first day of the 10th annual Austin Forum on Journalism in the Americas.

While not endorsed by the UNESCO International Program for the Development of Communication Council (IPDC) — in part because Brazil, India, Pakistan and other countries blocked the initiative -- the plan was "welcomed" and then in April the Chief Executives Board endorsed the plan, said Berger. The next step if to create a work plan, which could include designating three pilot countries where the plan could be implemented and then evaluated to determine whether it should be extended on a wider scale, Berger explained.

The plan — which would strengthen the authority of the Special Rapporteurs on Freedom of Expression,
encourag widening the scope of UN Security Council resolution 1738 (condemning attacks against journalists in areas of conflict) to include protecting journalists in non-conflict areas, help member nations pass laws to prosecute suspects in journalists' killings, develop a guide outlining emergency responses and safety provisions for journalists in the field, and establish a U.N. inter-agency mechanism to evaluate journalists' safety — is necessary, Berger said, because violence against the press is occurring in a "climate where journalists are not seen as offering a critical service to society."

What's more, criminal defamation laws send the message that critical journalists are criminals, thus making their killing seemingly less of a big issue, Berger said.

The media also need to do a better job of reporting on their own losses, Berger said. "If media are not going to make noise about losses within their own sector, then why would anyone else care?" he said, adding that lack of public awareness just adds to the climate of self censorship and violence.

Governments also have their own part to play, Berger said, noting that many governments see any condemnation of a killing as a personal attack that puts their country in a bad light. "There must be some political will on the part of the government, because it’s the state's responsibility to secure the environment for journalism," he said.

Interestingly, Berger pointed out that the plan does not limit the protection of journalists to those working for professional media outlets. Rather, the definition of "journalist" was extended to include community journalists, citizen journalists, and those working with new media to inform the public.

See here for more coverage of the Austin Forum. This year's Austin Forum, May 20-22 in Austin, Texas, is themed "Safety and Protection for Journalists, Bloggers, and Citizen Journalists," and is organized by the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas and the Latin America and Media programs of the Open Society Foundations. More than just an annual conference, the Austin Forum is a network of organizations that focus on media development and training in Latin America and the Caribbean. Previous Forums have focused on such topics as Media Coverage of Migration in the Americas and Coverage of Drug Trafficking and Organized Crime in Latin America and the Caribbean.


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