07 August 2013

A report of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights serves up news ideas about improving the safety of journalists and strengthening the fight against impunity.

The report on good practices in the protection of journalists, the prevention of attacks and the fight against impunity for attacks against journalists will be presented to the next session of the UN Human Rights Council next month in Geneva.

It argues that political commitment backed by clear and effective legislative and practical safeguards to prevent attacks and threats to journalists is the key elements of an effective approach to the protection of journalists.

As well as providing a comprehensive review of existing legal provisions of criminal and human rights law that provide grounds for media protection, the report also features ideas suggested by Members States to tackle the safety crisis in media.

These include the suggestion that violence against journalists should be considered an aggravating circumstance, leading to harsher sentences against journalists’ attackers. This idea is supported by academics for its deterrence potential. The report expands on this by suggesting that investigations into attack on media should look into any link between the suspected attack and the journalist’s professional activity.

An early warning and rapid response mechanism is also proposed for reporting threats and providing journalists with access to the authorities and protective measures. Journalists should be consulted on the establishment of such mechanisms which should command “the confidence of the media community’.

The report also contains proposals on safety training, including training security forces on the role of journalists. It even cites countries with a practice of working with journalists’ organisations on the issue of their =safety such as Sweden, where the IFJ member, the Swedish Union of Journalists, was involved in developing good practices on journalists’ protection.

It is encouraging to see countries with some of the highest levels of violence against journalists who contributed to the report, sharing some of the steps they have taken to protect journalists. Hence , Mexico states that crimes committed against journalists have become federal offences. The government has also set up an early warning system so that journalists under threat can have a quick access to the authorities as well as to the Fund for the implementation and operation of urgent and preventive measures.

The Russian Federation also reported the amendment of its Criminal Code with a provision which makes it a criminal offence any obstruction of journalists in their work by violence or threats of violence.

These are pro-active ideas which need to be translated into reality with the political will which the report singles out as the key enabling factor.

The report has shown quite emphatically that there is no need for a new or separate instrument to ensure media protection. The IFJ believes that there is enough in the toolkit to get the job done if the workman, in this case the governments, is committed.

We hope that Members States will give serious consideration to reports’ findings and recommendations and implement them in good faith. Of course, this is not the magic wander which will make journalism safer.

In fact, governments’ past performance in this area is likely to guarantee future results. This is why there is a need for continuous UN engagement.

A mechanism should be established within the UN system to monitor the steps being taken to promote the safety of journalists, actively encourage states to adopt the necessary measures and provide legal and logistical assistance where needed.

Read the full report here