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Meeting in Brussels: How to overcome impunity for attacks upon journalists

On the initiative of the Brussels Press Club, AEJ and Ossigeno. The UN Resolutions. The solidarity of colleagues. What deterrent to adopt

Maria Laura Franciosi – Brussels – From the conference “The geography of violence perpetrated against journalists” held on the 27th October in Brussels, on the occasion of the “International Day for Ending Impunity for crimes against journalists” (IDEI), it emerged that the map of these crimes includes also Europe.

At the Brussels Press Club which together with the Association of European Journalists (AEJ) and Ossigeno per l’Informazione had organised the meeting, journalists and experts from various countries spoke. Amongst others, William Horsley, Jean-Paul Marthoz, Alberto Spampinato and Ricardo Gutierrez reminded the audience of journalists killed and threatened both in Europe and in the rest of the world because of their work and they called upon national governments to adopt adequate concrete measures. Even if attacks on journalists have been for some time an extreme and dramatic reality, the speakers emphasised that the problem of actively guaranteeing the personal security of media personnel has up to now been neglected also by international agencies.

Fortunately a change took place after the killing in Mali of Ghislaine Dupont and Claude Verlon, two French radio journalists. These assassinations were the last straw. After those killings on the 2nd November 2013, the UN approved a  Resolution which encouraged facing up to the problem of impunity and commemorating publicly each year on the 2nd November, all journalists killed because of their work and asking for the prosecution of those responsible.

The UNESCO Representative, Adeline Hulin, who opened the meeting, recalled that over 800 journalists have been killed and in nine out of ten cases those commissioning the murders have not been identified, tried and sentenced.

William Horsley, a London-based journalist and vice-president of AEJ, who opened the panel discussion stated that “The impunity of those responsible for these crimes besides limiting the freedom of information contributes to damaging the reputation of journalists.”  But now, he added, the entry into the arena of intergovernmental organisations such as the UN, UNESCO and the Council of Europe is changing the perception of this serious problem and creating a new wave of interest in the protection of journalists.

In the last four years a full eight Resolutions adopted by the UN have called for the reinforcement of security for journalists. It is unprecedented and I am convinced, Horsley said, that they will contribute to overcoming the cynicism and the neglect with which the media treat this type of problem. It is by now quite clear, he added, that it is not enough to protect war correspondents. It is local indigenous journalists who run the greater risks, those who receive more threats and violence, who are compelled to retract what they uncovered with their investigations in order to avoid serious consequences for their job and their safety. Horsley concluded that the international institutions must commit themselves to obtaining from the national authorities adequate protection measures for media personnel, tangible solidarity on the part of citizens and responsibility from the media itself for these problems.

This concept was echoed by Jean-Paul Marthoz, a Belgian journalist and writer, author of numerous books on journalism and a consultant to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). Impunity, he stated, kills journalism. UNESCO indicates that “in the last ten years the assassination of a journalist in 88% of the cases goes unpunished; there has been no sentencing and often not even an investigation”.  Marthoz also hopes that the stance taken by the UN and UNESCO will make impunity of those commissioning this type of crime more difficult. “ The majority of journalists assassinated are not victims of random bullets but of retalitation for what they have written or filmed. Professional solidarity amongst journalists is a strong deterrent against these acts. Whilst a journalist can be killed his colleagues can, if they wish, make it difficult to eliminate the story on which he had been reporting. Faced with a strong pressure on the press, with the fact that today many journalists dare not open their mouths on certain questions we need a more serious and committed mobilisation on the part of the sector.”

Erisa Zykai, an Albanian television journalist pointed out that in the Balkans many journalists are in prison or forced to not open their mouths. She explained that, “Before in Albania one could write freely. Now there is much censorship. Several media outlets have been shut down despite the protests of the Albanian Association of Journalist which wants an investigation into these incidents.”

Gie Goris, chief editor of the Flemish magazine MO provided the viewpoint of journalists who work “on the front line” of many conflicts underway at present in various parts of the world. “MO”  covers world events and its journalists are often asked to follow the conflicts alongside combattants. As well as these, Goris added, there are also many local journalists who work far from the war zone who are ever more often subject to threats and their safety is at risk. “Nine out of ten journalists killed are “local” journalists and thus the most dangerous zones are not the war-zones but the more peaceful areas where they live.” Often who holds power thinks they have the right to act without taking account of the citizens and seeking to defend this prerogative by every means. It is down to us, governments and the governed to attempt to block the emergence of these dangerous situations for journalists. But the disturbing fact is that the majority of them are victims of attacks where a government is responsible – a government often receiving billions from the West. “ It is this which must make us reflect and encourage the information industry in our countries to rebel against this state of affairs.”


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