Last year, UNESCO reported that a mere eight-percent of the legal cases involving the murders of journalists have been resolved. This statistic does not include the larger number of journalists who suffer from non-fatal injuries each day. Those regimes and individuals who commit violence against journalists are emboldened when they know they can attack their victims and not face justice.
When attacks on media workers go unpunished, a harmful message is sent that reporting unwanted information or compromising truth will get regular citizens into serious trouble. Obviously the public not only loses their main source of information about their governments, there is a loss in confidence in their judiciary systems. When journalists are “disappeared” or harmed, all of society suffers.
Each time a crime against a media worker goes unpunished, the impunity encourages other perpetrators to commit similar crimes. The atmosphere of impunity causes other journalists to self-censor their work so as to protect themselves from mayhem or murder. This censorship is greatly harmful to free inquiry and the right to know in society.
Aside from murder, the criminal attacks include harassment, intimidation, enforced disappearances, arbitrary detention, sexual attacks, and torture. Yet murder is the main problem in areas of conflict or under rule of dictatorships. UNESCO notes that, “On average, one journalist is killed per week and while fatalities include foreign correspondents, the vast majority of victims are local, covering local stories, living in a climate of impunity.”
These are the main reasons the United Nations General Assembly set aside November second as “International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists”. The date was picked in order to remember the assassination of two French journalists on November 2, 2013 in Mali.
The resolution “…urges Member States to do their utmost to prevent violence against journalists and media workers, to ensure accountability, bring to justice perpetrators of crimes against journalists and media workers, and ensure that victims have access to appropriate remedies. It further calls upon States to promote a safe and enabling environment for journalists to perform their work independently and without undue interference.”
If you rely upon the media, in any of its forms, the increase in censorship and regional threats against journalists and the media should cause concern. Today we are reminded of the importance of objective, accurate reporting to the health and well-being of free societies. The safety of journalists is key to our supply of trustworthy news.