At least 17 journalists have died in 2021 while on duty across the world with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation calling for enhanced coordinated efforts in creating a safe and just working environment for reporters to discharge their duties.
Speaking at the official Global Opening Ceremony of the World Press Freedom Day held under the theme, ‘Information as a public good’ in Windhoek, Namibia, UNESCO director general Audrey Azoulay said there was need for continued efforts in calling for safe working environments for journalists.
Over the past 10 years, one journalist is killed every four days, according to Azoulay, and 17 have already lost their lives in 2021 with 90 percent of the crimes happening in non-conflicting countries.
“The killing of journalists is happening in countries that are not experiencing armed conflicts and 90 percent of these crimes remain unpunished,” Azoulay said.
UNESCO is currently working together with member states and civil societies around the globe to protect journalists by helping to monitor journalistic situations through a platform for journalist safety in Africa.
The platform was launched in partnership with the African Union in January last year.
“We are also helping to enhance to adapt legal frameworks like we have done in many places like Sudan and Tunisia, among others. We are also training judges, prosecutors and judicial actors in general on freedom of expression,” Azoulay said.
Since 2013, 18 000 legal practitioners in Africa, the India-Arab region and Latin America have been trained in handling cases involving journalists in line with national accepted standards on human rights.
According to the UNESCO director general, a new global online course for judiciaries with Oxford University will be launched to assist and protect journalists all over the world.
At least 2 000 judges across the world have already enrolled for the project.
“Online harassment is also a growing issue with women being the primary targets. According to the newly released report by the UNESCO, three quarters of the women in journalism have experienced violence online with over two and half million analysed posts showing aggression towards two targeted female reporters.”
UN Secretary General António Guterres, expressed concerns over increasing attacks of the media fraternity across the world.
“In many countries, journalists run too many great personal risks including new restrictions, censorship, abuse, harassment, detention and even death simply for doing their job and the situation continues to worsen,” he said.
Guterres said the situation for journalism and the media is worsened by the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic which is threatening the survival of media outlets.
“I urge all governments to do everything in their power to support the free, independent and diverse media. Free and independent journalists are our greatest ally in combating misinformation and disinformation and the UN Plan of action on the safety of journalists aims at creating a safe environment across the globe because information is a public good.”
Namibian Prime Minister, Saara Kuugongelwa, said journalists have a humanitarian mandate to provide quality information to the people at the grass-root level of society to afford them an opportunity to meaningfully participate in the social and political spheres of the country.
Kuugongelwa said journalists and the media are stakeholders in the conversations of nation building and contribute to economic growth and prosperity for all.
“In modern times, the media exude enormous power of serving as valuable fora for articulating the affairs of the country to the people.
“However, since the business of news is time-bound, in some instances, journalists compromise their fact-checking and verification processes, resulting in dire damage in a social context,” she said.
Kuugongelwa said journalists’ rights and responsibilities have to be established to safeguard the profession’s integrity and remain loyal to the public by prioritizing the public interest before their own personal beliefs and quest for profit-making.