Ensure systems go for justice for the journo! | Daily News


Ensure systems go for justice for the journo!

Saturday, November 2, marks the ‘International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists.’ The day draws attention to the low global conviction rate for violent crimes against journalists and media workers, estimated at only one in every ten cases. Last year alone, the UNESCO Director-General, 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, however, 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. In addition, there are specific risks faced by women journalists including sexual attacks.

A vicious cycle

In essence, there is a war on journalism and those attacking us are literally getting away with cold-blooded murder, no less. In the past 11 years close to 930 journalists worldwide have been killed for doing their job, which means basically bringing information to you. On average, a journalist is killed every four days while practicing his or her profession. Allow me to elaborate: The horrifying bottom line is that less than one in ten of these cases have been solved to date and the killers go unpunished.

Impunity is poisonous and leads to more killings. And it is often a symptom of worsening conflict and the breakdown of law and judicial systems. UNESCO is concerned that impunity damages whole societies by covering up serious human rights abuses, corruption and crime. Governments, civil society, the media and everyone concerned to uphold the rule of law are being asked to join in the global efforts to end impunity.

Worryingly, such abuses carried out with impunity embolden the perpetrators of the crimes and at the same time has a chilling effect on society including journalists themselves. That is because impunity breeds impunity and feeds into a vicious cycle.

When attacks on journalists remain unpunished, an ominously negative message is conveyed to the world that reporting the ‘embarrassing truth’ or ‘unwanted opinions’ will get ordinary people in trouble. Besides, society loses confidence in its own judicial system which is meant to protect everyone from attacks on their rights. Perpetrators of crimes against journalists are thus emboldened when they realise they can attack their targets without ever facing justice. Society as a whole suffers from impunity. The type 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.

Epidemic proportions

It is important for an industry usually averse to introspection to acknowledge the deaths of journalists who have died in pursuit of the news that feeds our work. Much more can be done to promote accountability. Worryingly, one observes violence committed against journalists for simply doing their jobs reaching epidemic proportions with the perpetrators getting away scot free in too many such instances.

A free media is an essential foundation for prosperous, open and secure societies, assisting citizens to access information, exposing abuses and holding their governments accountable. In these and other ways, journalists play a critical role in sustaining comprehensive security. On Thursday we remembered those journalists killed in the line of duty, massacred in cold blood, tortured, taken hostage, murdered for the crime of reporting the truth and for whom there has been no justice. Journalists should be free to work from fear of persecution by those who they hold to account and those who attack journalists should themselves be held to account in courts of law.

Journalists expect societies to continue to stand up for their beliefs. They must fight to ensure reporters can go about their business without fear of being blown up, beheaded, hacked to death or held hostage. We must fight to end impunity for crimes against journalists. Impunity for those who threaten, beat and murder journalists is not only unjust. It sets a dangerous precedent and creates a culture of impunity. Journalists should not be muzzled from asking tough questions. They should be empowered to seek the truth without fear of reprisal.

Such abuses are happening in far too many places. We have seen them in horribly brutal and painful ways this year in Syria. We see them in the ISIS-controlled areas of Iraq and throughout Syria, where the regime and the terror group continue to censor the media through vicious and heinous attacks, including the disappearances and kidnapping of journalists to stop the vital flow of information to the outside world. The United States is committed to working with the Iraqi Government to bring the perpetrators to justice. We call on all parties to the Syrian conflict to protect journalists covering the conflict.

The symbolic significance

The day 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.

On Thursday of all days, we demanded an end to impunity for those who use violence to silence their critics. We demand answers on behalf of all the journalists and their families who still have not seen justice served. And above all, we stand in awe of the courage of those who risk their lives to tell the stories the world needs to hear.

More than 40 years ago when I was a youthful journalist we sometimes joined the police, the army and navy personnel on search operations missions to curb smuggling, illegal immigrants and rescue operations of abducted children used as forced labour in remote fishing ‘wadiyas.’

We rode in helicopters and patrol boats. We did not carry guns. We carried cameras, notebooks and pens. Sometimes our pens were more powerful than any military hardware employed in such operations. Yes, we journalists like to tell the story. But we do not relish the prospect of becoming the story, posthumously or otherwise.

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