“Even though the number of journalists killed in 2016 is slightly lower than in the previous year, the perils and challenges faced by media workers worldwide show no sign of abating,” stated Frank La Rue, UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Communication and Information. “The profession of a journalist is not a safe one, and a press accreditation card or display of media equipment has often served as an extra reason to be targeted.”
The 2016 figure compares to 115 in 2015 as recorded by UNESCO, 98 in 2014 and 90 in 2013. Each killing is condemned by the UNESCO Director General who calls for a judicial investigation to bring the killers to book.
The most lives were lost in the Arab States, where the armed conflicts in the Syrian Arab Republic, Iraq and Yemen have claimed the largest share. Media operating in Latin America and the Caribbean saw 28 casualties, including bloggers and freelancers, constituting the region as second deadliest in 2016.
Although impunity statistics are not yet available for the cases of killings in 2016, widespread impunity for acts of violence against the media has long been a cause for concern: barely one out of ten cases of killed journalists has led to a conviction in the past.
“When crimes against journalists, of any kind, remain unpunished, it implies that media can continuously be harassed and attacked,” added Mr La Rue. “Impunity slowly gags journalists and media, where fear of reprisal turns into self-censorship, depriving each and every one of us from vital information.” This climate of impunity demonstrates that publishing and broadcasting stories can pose lethal risks, leaving less room for in-depth reporting on sensitive information or inconvenient truths.
Online hate speech and gender-based harassment were also evident in 2016 as additional dangers next to the physical threats toward the lives of journalists.
UNESCO coordinates the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity, the first concerted effort in tackling these issues. Entering its fifth year of implementation, it brings together all stakeholders, including civil society organizations, academia, media houses, intergovernmental bodies as well as government actors. The UN Plan of Action has provided a large impetus to addressing the plight of media worldwide, and actively contributes to the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda.
Tim Dawson, President of the National Union of Journalists in the United Kingdom and Ireland delivered a training, based on his long serving experience as trade unionist, to trainers from Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Turkey and Kosovo*. It included various techniques aimed to ensure the recognition of trade unions and their efficiency in bargaining collective agreements and wages. The training was attended by 13 participants from the region.
Despite the existence of some legal guarantees, reports too often highlight that journalists’ labour rights in South East Europe and Turkey are more breached than upheld. The lack of independent journalists’ trade unions that could defend proper contracts and strengthen social protection measures of journalists appears a central part of the problem.
The training class hence covered important areas for improving journalists’ labour rights, among others: (i) trade union recognition agreements; (ii) components of wage claims; (iii) collective bargaining techniques; (iv) annual negotiation on wages; (v) education of media owners on labour rights; (vi) ways to strengthen workers networks within the group of media enterprises; (vii) cooperation with international trade union networks; (viii) ways to encourage journalists to organize themselves and act collectively; (ix) settlement procedures, etc.
Based on the ideas and best practices presented during the workshop by Tim Dawson, participants were requested to repeat this workshop locally for the benefit of their members. The EFJ will organize a follow-up ToT seminar next year.
The UNESCO-EFJ project “Building Trust in media in South East Europe and Turkey” is funded by the European Union. The project supports media freedom and media integrity in the EU enlargement countries by improving the internal governance of media organizations through the implementation of internal rules and good practices that recognize human rights and labour standards.
* Administered by the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo in the context of UN Security Council Resolution 1244