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UK should take the lead in safety for journalists

22 March 2012

MPs called upon the UK government to do more to hold to account regimes that fail to investigate the deaths and incarceration of journalists, in a parliamentary debate on 21 March.

"The Safety of Journalists and the Danger of Impunity" report (PDF) has also been presented to UNESCO's International Programme for the Development of Communication.

UNESCO is the UN agency with a mandate to defend and promote freedom of expression and its corollary press freedom and to combat impunity.

The 10-point document aims to tackle the failure of authorities to investigate the killing of journalists and set out international rules and principles on press freedom. It looks toward creating a free and safe environment for journalists and media workers in both conflict and non-conflict situations, with a view to strengthening peace, democracy and development worldwide.

Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary, said:

"The UK government must take the lead in shining the spotlight on countries that appear to be dragging their feet in the protection of journalists; raising awareness; assisting member states to develop their own legislation and mechanisms for protecting journalists; improving collaboration with relevant agencies; and developing further safety initiatives, which might include the creation of so-called media corridors in conflict zones.
"The NUJ is in contact with sister organisations in countries such as Somalia, Russia, Bahrain, Nigeria, Indonesia and Colombia among others to protect journalists under attack. We are working with members of the NUJ Parliamentary Group to use political pressure in individual cases. We supported government calls for an independent inquiry into the murder of Hassan Osman Abdi, union branch secretary and director of Shabelle Media Network, Somalia."

Recent reports from the International Freedom of Expression Exchange show that in nine out of ten cases of journalists killed while performing their professional duties the perpetrators of these crimes are never prosecuted.

In the Westminster Hall debate, Don Foster, Lib-Dem MP for Bath, said:

"Because of the threats many journalists face, they have had to resort to self-censorship in an effort to protect themselves, rather than lose their lives. Not all those deaths, injuries and threats to lives, freedom or jobs have been to journalists and others working in war zones.
"Some 60 per cent of the loss of life in 2011 occurred away from conflict zones, in areas where investigations were underway into organised crime, corruption or other illegal activities.
"A press freedom violation can be an assassin's bullet aimed to kill an investigative journalist and to intimidate and silence his colleagues. It can be the knock on the door from the police, bringing in a reporter to question her on her sources, or put her in jail with or without a proper trial. It can be a restrictive media law, which puts the power over editorial content into the hands of censors and press courts."

Contributing to the debate, Helen Goodman, Labour MP for Bishop Aukland, said:

"Last year, 106 people died reporting overseas, but people who are reporting in conflict situations or under violent and autocratic regimes are not just caught in the crossfire, but targeted and attacked for what they are writing and filming, by their regimes, terrorist organisations and criminal gangs…
"The whole world knows of the murder of Anna Politkovskaya in 2006, but it is probably not as well known that the Russian Union of Journalists has found that between 1993 and 2009, 300 journalists died or disappeared.
"The National Union of Journalists is running a campaign focusing in particular on the situation faced by women journalists. When women journalists are in risky situations, they are threatened not just with violence but with sexual abuse and attack, and particular care must be taken."

Jeremy Brown, foreign office minister, said the government is "providing assistance for journalists working in difficult environments".

Read the debate in full.

Tags: , impunity, press freedom, journalists killed, unesco, colombia, somalia, russia, bahrain, parliamentary group