The increase in deaths of women journalists and an increase in the number of journalists’ deaths due to their reporting of issues such as corruption, rather than in the line of fire due to conflicts, made for an alarming trend that was described as “deeply disturbing” in a decision made by the Intergovernmental Council of UNESCO’s International Programme for the Development of Communication, (IPDC), during its two-day meeting in Paris, France.
In its decision, the Council welcomed the sixth biennial Director-General’s report on the Safety of Journalists and the Danger of Impunity, which reported 182 killings of journalists worldwide in the 2016-2017 period – an average of a journalist being killed every four days.
The report noted that the majority of journalists killed in 2017 (55%), were killed in countries not experiencing armed conflict, and that many of these journalists were reporting on topics related to corruption, trafficking and political wrong-doing.
Out of the 1010 killings recorded and condemned by the UNESCO Director-General in the last 12 years, only 115 were followed by judicial procedure that led to the conviction of one or multiple perpetrators. The overall effect of such high levels of impunity impedes progress towards “public access to information and fundamental freedoms”, which is an agreed target for the world in the Sustainable Development Goal, 16.10. In this regard, the Council acknowledged the Director-General’s Report has been recognized by the UN Statistical Commission as a contribution towards Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 16, Target 10, as one of the resources for monitoring the safety of journalists and the danger of impunity.
The Council also regretted a decrease in this year’s response rate of Member States to the Director-General’s request for information on the judicial follow-up to killings of journalists, and expressed their concern with the continued high rate of legal impunity for perpetrators and the signal which this sends, namely that violence against journalists can go unpunished.
Mr Guy Berger, UNESCO Director of Freedom of Expression and Media Development, told the Council that the Secretariat had developed a template to guide and assist Member States in responding to cases under investigation to encourage responses in monitoring and responding to the Director-General’s request on impunity.
During the deliberations, Pakistan committed to responding to the Director-General’s request for information, saying “Focal points for safety of journalists have been established in provincial and federal ministries of information and communication. We are working on an updated report on the status of judicial investigations into the killings of journalists in 2017 and will submit it to the Secretariat shortly”.
In making their decision, the IPDC Council invited the UNESCO Director-General to further reinforce the analytical report by continuing to strengthen a gender-sensitive analysis in order to highlight the specific risks faced by women journalists in the exercise of their work. This was reiterated by a number of Member States including Sweden, Lithuania, Canada and Pakistan, and observers, including the Global Alliance for Media and Gender, who called on UNESCO and Member States to publicly monitor gender-based violence of women journalists.
The Council also invited UNESCO’s Director-General to enhance current monitoring of safety of journalists in order to align and reinforce synergies with the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) and the overall reporting on SDG 16.10.1, while encouraging Member States who have not done so, to appoint a focal point on the issue of safety of journalists and impunity.
The Council also urged the Director-General and Member States to increase their efforts in mobilizing extra-budgetary funding for UNESCO’s work in the area of safety of journalists and the issue of impunity.
The full decision (Decision 3) can be read here.
More information on the Safety of Journalists can be found here.
In 2019, support for Member States that encourage activities which build and strengthen reporting mechanisms for the safety of journalists will be implemented in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Burundi, Colombia, Iraq, Mali, Mexico, Pakistan, Palestine, Philippines, Rwanda, Somalia, South Sudan, Tanzania and Yemen from UNESCO partnerships funded by the Netherlands, Sweden and the United Kingdom.
The IPDC is the only multilateral forum in the UN system designed to mobilize the international community to discuss and promote media development in developing countries. The Programme not only provides support for media projects but also seeks an accord to secure a healthy environment for the growth of free and pluralistic media in developing countries. Its Intergovernmental Council meets every two years and it is served by a nine member Bureau, including a Chairperson, three Vice-Chairpersons, a Rapporteur and three ordinary members. More information on the newly elected Bureau can be found here.