Delegation of the European Union to Afghanistan

When a journalist is killed, we all lose: International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists

02/11/2020 - 08:00
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The Covid-19 pandemic should serve as a wake-up call on the importance of having access to reliable sources of information for our democracies

For every journalist who wins the Pulitzer Prize each year, 100 get shot. In the past fourteen years (2006-2019), close to 1,200 journalists have been killed, and many more were injured, tortured, kidnapped, illegally detained, intimidated or harassed in both conflict and non-conflict situations. In nine out of ten cases, the killers go unpunished. If free and reliable reporting is always an essential condition for democratic systems, in these difficult times of pandemic and disinfodemic it has become even more vital to preserve the citizenship´s right to be informed. On the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists, the EU reaffirms its commitment to defend the right to freedom of expression and to information, guaranteed by the European Convention on Human Rights, and improve the working environment for journalists, their protection and safety.

“Journalists play a fundamental role in the functioning of democracies, in ensuring accountability of those in power, and in providing timely and factual information”, reads the EU statement jointly issued by High Representative/Vice-President Josep Borrell and Vice-President Věra Jourová to mark the date. “They help shed light on hidden issues and help us understand the world’s complexities. The information that they provide is important for our choices, whether related to health or elections, and affects our viewpoints”.

The number of journalists killed between 2014 and 2018 shows an alarming trend: 495 reporters were murdered, an 18% increase over the previous 5-years, according to a UNESCO report in 2019. Since 2006, only 131 cases of journalists’ killings are reported as being resolved, representing an overall impunity rate of 88%. 

Such impunity leads to more violence, as it emboldens the perpetrators of the crimes and erodes societies’ trust on their own judiciary systems. “When journalists are targeted, societies as a whole pay a price (…) Without journalists able to do their jobs in safety, we face the prospect of a world of confusion and disinformation”, has stated the UN Secretary-General, António Guterres.

As the International Federation of Journalists (IFP) points out, “impunity also occurs when those who ordered the crimes walk free and remain in power while others are used as scapegoats”. In 2020, this organisation has put “a specific emphasis” on five countries where impunity rates seriously threaten media freedom: Yemen, India, Russia, Mexico and Somalia.

While crimes against journalists still go largely unpunished, IFP remarks there has recently been some good news in the fight against impunity: the sentence against the masterminds of the Mindanao massacre in Philippines (32 journalists killed), the ongoing prosecution of the alleged mastermind behind the murder of Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, the appointment of a Special Prosecutor to investigate killings of journalists in Somalia, etc.

On 9 and 10 December 2020, the World Press Freedom Conference 2020 -convened by UNESCO and the Kingdom of the Netherlands- will celebrate jointly World Press Freedom Day (3 May) and the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists (2 November) in a new, innovative format, merging digital and in-person elements. A session entitled “Strengthening investigations and prosecutions to end impunity for crimes against journalists” will provide guidelines for prosecutors on investigating and prosecuting crimes and attacks against journalists, developed in partnership with the International Association of Prosecutors.

What is the EU doing to protect journalists?

Since 2014, the Council of Europe’s Platform to Promote the Protection of Journalism and the Safety of Journalists has recorded 28 murders of journalists in Europe, while hundreds more have been victims of attacks ranging from harassment and intimidation to physical assault, detention and imprisonment. The vast majority of these attacks still remain unpunished.

The EU is working tirelessly to protect journalists and bring the perpetrators of such crimes to justice. Thanks to the EU funding for projects such as the Media Freedom Rapid Response, journalists under threat can count on legal and practical help. The EU-funded Mapping Media Freedom Platform helps monitor threats to media freedom in the EU and candidate countries. The upcoming European Democracy Action Plan will outline measures to help improve the safety of journalists and address abusive litigation against them.

Outside Europe, the EU Delegations around the world attend and closely monitor court cases involving journalists, helping to identify those cases that need a special attention. In the last 12 months, the EU has supported over 425 journalists with emergency grants, temporary relocation, or support to their respective media outlets.

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