Safety of journalists tops agenda at UNESCO meeting

NUJ President, Odusile
NUJ President, Odusile

OWING to the increasing danger that media professionals encounter in the course of bringing news and information to the public, news organisations around the world have been urged to step up safety measures.

At the February 5, 2016 conference at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris, France, about 300 media leaders shared ideas on how to enhance the safety of journalists and end impunity for attacks on them. President, Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), Alhaji Abdulwaheed Odusile represented the country at the one-day conference with the theme, News Organisations Standing up for Safety of Media Professionals.

The concrete actions news organizations can take include: adopting safety protocols for newsrooms, taking advantage of safety training provided by NGOs, conducting risk analysis, and supporting freelancers. Other ideas raised were the use of mobile apps for journalists to report attacks, and coverage to raise awareness and show solidarity.

The Paris conference, which also involved dialogue with UNESCO Member States representatives, witnessed active participation of media leaders, unions and social media. It helped strengthen the media as a key actor in providing safety for journalists and tackling impunity.

Participants at the Paris meeting also highlighted the importance of strengthening solidarity between media, from local and community radio to mainstream media.

“One of the important points of the conference is that we saw that the whole world was supporting us,” said Jesus Dureza, Publisher of the Mindanao Times and President of the Association of the media owners of Philippines (PPI). “ And you can’t underestimate the importance of this feeling.”

A smaller follow-up meeting on 6 February gathered 25 participants from the conference who explored additional steps such as setting up national mechanisms to monitor and report on safety and impunity. It also gave further attention to the status of freelancers in dangerous areas and improve their safety and protection, with bodies such as the Global Safety Principles and Practices for Freelancers developed by the ACOS (A Culture of Safety) alliance.

During the 5 February conference, UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova, stressed in her remarks the importance of “building broad base co-operation, to enhance safety of journalists and end impunity” in the framework of the UN Plan of Action of Safety of Journalists. The Director General also announced that she “agreed on the importance of the proposal for a special representative on journalist safety, within the Office of the United Nations Secretary General”.

Amongst the participants were senior representatives of The Associated Press; the Washington Post, BuzzFeed, Thomson Reuters, France Media Monde, Deutsche Welle, Al Jazeera, European Broadcast Union, Prisa, AMARC and the Inter-American Press Association.

Sessions were moderated by Chanel 4’s Siobhan Sinnerton, BBC’s Zeinab Badawi, and CNN’s Christiane Amanpour who is also UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador for Freedom of Expression and Journalist Safety.

Jim Boumelha of the International Federation of Journalists called for greater action by governments and the UN to protect journalists, while Erik Bjerager, of the World Editors Forum, said the media itself could do much more.

President of RAI, Monica Maggioni highlighted that the nature of conflict is changing and it is becoming more dangerous for media companies to decide to send their reporters to report from the battlefield, since some extremists “consider journalists to be an instrument in war”. Doug Jehl, foreign editor at The Washington Post reiterated that journalists are being persecuted, not only because of what they write but what they represent.

Director General of Swedish Radio and Mustafa Souag, acting Director-General of Al Jazeera, Cilla Benkö reiterated that democracy needs journalists to be alive, but that in recent years they observe that the number of attacks is growing. Veran Matic from Serbia’s B94 pointed out that the morale of the professional community suffers if the murder of fellow colleagues is not solved.

Deputy editor-in-chief of Russia’s Sputnik news agency, Pavel Andreev said: “The problem starts with the newsroom. Unless we start reporting on these issues ourselves nobody will pick it up for us. There is an issue of selective reporting – we cannot allow ourselves to report one death but not others. We have to cover all killings and wrongdoings against journalists no matter where, leave aside double standards. We have to stop talking about journalists deceased in the line of duty as martyrs but as heroes.”

Deputy Director General of UNESCO, Getachew Engida said in his closing remarks: “Governments must do more. The UN must do more. Civil society must do more. And the media industry must do more.”

UNESCO’s Director for Freedom of Expression and Media Development, Guy Berger spoke of the symbiotic relationship between press freedom and safety of journalists.
The conference was organized under the auspices of UNESCO’s International Programme for the Development of Communication, and supported by six media groupings, a foundation and six Member States.

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