UN must do more to protect journalists around the world

UN must do more to protect journalists around the world
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When you imagine the most dangerous jobs in the world, soldiers, police officers, firefighters and coal miners are often the first professions that come to mind. But sadly, journalists and media workers are increasingly at risk. In just the past two years, more than 100 members of the media have been killed for simply doing their jobs. Whenever a person dies, there is a profound sense of loss, but when a journalist is murdered while on the job, there is also a real fear that our right to information and freedom of expression is being threatened.

From President Trump’s demonization of the media in America, which many claim have contributed to an atmosphere of aggression against journalists, to President Erdogan’s imprisonment of journalists in Turkey, to the countless assassinations of journalists in Mexico, no matter where in the world you are, the peril of being a journalist has never been greater.

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The targeting and assassination of journalists and media workers is horrific, but the blow is worsened when these crimes are not met with the appropriate judgments, and they almost never are. Impunity is the norm for these attackers, which leads to self censorship and fewer journalists covering critical issues where their work is most needed.

The assassination of journalists is a global phenomenon. It happens in war zones and urban areas, in democracies and authoritarian countries. It happens to reporters covering local, national, and international issues alike. Attacks on journalists undermine the right to information and freedom of expression for people all over the world.

Historically, the United States has been viewed as a leader on press freedom issues. However, this administration has been unrelenting in its verbal assaults against the media, calling them “sick” and the “enemy of the people.” Given Trump’s comments and his anti-media stance, it does not appear that this administration will champion the welfare of journalists anytime soon.

Even Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, said, “To call these news organisations ‘fake’ does tremendous damage and to refer to individual journalists in this way, I have to ask the question, is this not an incitement for others to attack journalists?” He added, “I believe it could amount to incitement.”

Because of this dangerous vacuum of leadership, the international community must unite to support freedom of information and the safety of journalists. As the 72nd U.N. General Assembly convenes this week, action must be taken to appoint a special representative for the safety of journalists to increase national, regional and global efforts to improve the safety of journalists and protect freedom of press once and for all.

U.N. Secretary General António Guterres, has already taken an important first step on this front. In February, his office established a direct and continuing channel of communication with the #ProtectJournalists coalition. This channel has enabled mobilization at the highest levels of the U.N. system to respond to emergency cases and to improve coordination within the U.N. itself.

The U.N. and its member states have also expressed their deep concerns about the killing of journalists. Diverse bodies within the U.N., including the Security Council and the General Assembly, have adopted strong resolutions for the protection and safety of journalists, and UNESCO and the Human Rights Council have spearheaded several such efforts. But the situation on the ground has not improved.

The truth is that too many journalists have been attacked and murdered for doing their work, and too many of these crimes have gone unpunished. By appointing a special representative for the safety of journalists, the U.N. can hold member states accountable and, hopefully, improve the safety of journalists on the ground and end impunity for crimes committed against them. It is time for concrete action.

Delphine Halgand is the U.S. director of Reporters Without Borders.