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Protection for journalists. The Un enters the fray in force

Presented in Geneva a plan for the mobilization of all United Nations Agencies, greater resources and goals in individual countries

No one has so far managed to shake from their desolating immobility governments, parliaments, and other institutions that have the power, the skills and the duty to counter violations of press freedom and threats to journalists and to ensure their protection from blackmail and retaliation.

Freedom of the press is gravely ill, is devoid of proper care, it is getting worse day by day. The leading international organizations and the most authoritative independent observers agree on this diagnosis and do not miss the opportunity to say so. They decry so. For years they have been updating the situation and raising the alarm.

Physicians gathered around the patient’s bedside are powerless in refusing to provide remedies that would certainly be effective, but have excessive political costs, as they would limit the ability of the powerful to restrict freedom of information and the right of citizens to be informed.

It has been going on for years and the defenders of press freedom have not yet found the way to win the game. Things could change if the UN were to enter the fray with its powerful armies, implementing a plan that has long been in the making, which has just been illustrated and has the favour of the new secretary-general in office since December 2016, Antonio Guterres, former Portuguese prime minister and former UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

Guterres gave the green light to Frank La Rue’s plan for a full commitment of the United Nations’ organizations by mobilizing in this field not only UNESCO, which has specific competencies and has modest resources, but all thematic agencies and all special rapporteurs, even nominating a new one for the protection of journalists, something that should happen n the coming months.

Frank La Rue, 63 years old, from Guatemala, a jurist and diplomat (read more) has long been a protagonist of the industry. He knows the problem well in the different national declinations, has a branched network and a high level of personal relationships. Since 2008, he has been the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Opinion. Since 2015, he has served as UNESCO Director-General for these issues.

In this role, he launched an innovative intervention strategy to overcome the stalemate, which has two strengths: the choral mobilization of all UN forces on agreed points of intervention with the European Union and other intergovernmental organizations, with NGOs, universities, publishers, internet platforms, diplomatic representations and all other stakeholders that have different interests in the media world (stakeholders), and a method for influencing the regulatory measures.

The great weaver of this canvas has achieved a first success on June 29, 2017 in Geneva with the “Multi-stakeholders consultation”, a high-level conference convened by UNESCO and the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights (UNHCR). The conference endorsed his vision and the choice to make the demands that the UN addresses to the nation-states in recent years to be more incisive, calling on them, with ten Resolutions, to respect the obligations to defend freedom of expression as this has been accepted by subscribing to International Treaties. The first step in this direction will be to re-launch on new foundations and with more intensive initiatives the “UN Action Plan for journalists’ security and the fight against impunity”. This ten-year plan has come halfway without producing meaningful results. Today begins the attempt to implement it nationwide in each country.

The revival is also based on the initiatives foreseen by the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (read). Among other things, this Agenda lists the KPIs to be observed globally in order to achieve a peaceful and sustainable development. Among the KPIs there is also: “Ensuring public access to information and protecting fundamental freedoms, in compliance with national laws and international agreements”.

The Geneva Consultation has approved 78 very significant recommendations that will be announced shortly. Four Special Rapporteurs from the UN were present at the Consultation: David Kaye for Human Rights; Agnes Calalmard, for Summary and arbitrary extra-judicial procedures; Michel Forst for Human Rights Defenders; Annalisa Ciampi for Freedom of Assembly and Association; Dubravka Simonovic for Violence Against Women; Gianni Magazzeni, Head of Universal Periodic Review UPR. For the NGOs, there were among other RFS, CPJ, IPI, MLDI and Ossigeno. It is furthermore clear that, at a time of serious blundering of the primary role played by the OSCE so far (the Office of Representative for Press and Media Freedom has been vacant since March 2017) and of such serious concerns about the spread of threats against journalists and of attacks on press freedom even in Western European countries, even in the United States of Donald Trump, the importance of the meeting goes beyond the content approved and the level of participation. It is a light that shines at the end of the tunnel.


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