Journalists cover a protest in Hebron 390.
(photo credit: Michael Omer-Man)
Well over 100 journalists have been killed so far this year – the highest number
since the International Press Institute (IPI) began keeping count of
journalists’ deaths in 1997. All across the world – from Africa, Asia and
Europe, to the Middle East and Latin America – journalists continue to be
systematically and brutally targeted because of their work. Some are caught in
the crossfire while reporting on conflict, but most are targeted by criminal
groups and individuals who want to prevent information from getting out,
corruption and other crimes from being exposed and critical views from being
In many countries, journalists stare death in the face
every day. For them, receiving threats is part of a near-daily routine.
Journalists are killed for telling a story, but also, ironically, sometimes
they’re killed for not telling one.
Attacks against journalists are not
confined to murder. Many reporters have been brutally beaten this year, or
seriously injured by firearms or explosive devices. Just a few weeks ago, a
Bolivian radio presenter was set on fire by assailants who poured petrol over
him as he was live on air with his radio show. And all too often reporters’
families are also caught up in the deadly spiral of violence.
for those responsible for attacks against journalists is rampant and constitutes
one of the biggest obstacles to improving the safety of
Journalists play a special role in society as providers of
information on matters of public interest. To preserve this important role is in
the interest of society as a whole. The consequences of attacks against
journalists are manifest: An absence of crucial information, a denial of the
people’s right to know and an inability of journalists to retain the
independence that is so vital to their professional credibility.
growing number of journalists killed around the world has prompted a call for
For the first time in its history, the UN Human Rights Council
adopted a resolution on the safety of journalists last September. The new
resolution – initiated by Austria in line with a commitment made when it became
a member of the UN Human Rights Council in 2011– represents a significant step
forward in the promotion of the protection of journalists’ safety.
forward in cooperation with a cross-regional core group comprising Brazil,
Morocco, Tunisia and Switzerland, and with input from IPI and other press
freedom and professional organizations, the unique resolution makes a clear
statement in condemning all forms of attacks against journalists and calls on
states to end impunity and ensure accountability, by investigating attacks,
bringing the perpetrators to justice and providing adequate remedies for
The resolution also underscores the responsibility of
governments in ensuring the safety of journalists not only in
clearly-identifiable conflict situations, but everywhere, and at all times. For
let us make no mistake: Most of the journalists killed and physically harmed are
targeted outside classic conflict zones. The fact that the resolution – in spite
of its strong, uncompromising language – was supported by 66 co-sponsoring
states and passed by consensus in the Human Rights Council lends it even greater
Parallel to the UN Human Rights Council, the United Nations
Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has also promoted
discussions, and action, related to the need to reinforce international
instruments for the protection of journalists. As a result, in another
milestone, the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of
Impunity was endorsed by the UN Chief Executives Board in April.
past couple of days, discussions have continued, as representatives of UN
agencies, funds and programs, intergovernmental organizations, member states,
professional associations and NGOs have gathered in Vienna at a follow-up
meeting hosted by Austria and focused on the implementation of the UN plan, to
ensure that it does actually result in “action” that will help limit violence
Members of the global media community have been
actively involved in the implementation phase debate.
In fact, at a
meeting in London a few weeks ago, editors and journalists issued a statement
welcoming the UN Plan of Action, calling on the UN system and other relevant
national and international bodies to operate effectively and in accountable ways
in the implementation of the plan.
Much has been achieved in 2012 to
ensure greater protection for journalists in the future. Now it is up to UN
agencies, civil society, media professionals and, most importantly, the numerous
states that have endorsed the UN Human Rights Council resolution on the safety
of journalists to actively show their commitment to this important
Austria, and IPI, stand ready and willing to continue their work
to actively promote the now-existing broad mechanisms for the protection of
And IPI will continue to support journalists in dangerous
environments, call for justice when they are attacked and hold states
accountable for their safety.Michael Spindelegger is the vice-chancellor
and foreign minister of the Republic of Austria, and Alison Bethel McKenzie is
the executive director of The International Press Institute (IPI).