“Reporters and other media workers in war-zones across the world, are reliable witnesses who contribute to forging peace, and must be better-protected under international humanitarian law” the UN chief said.
António Guterres said in the statement issued by his Spokesperson that he remains deeply concerned, and condemned attacks against journalists and media workers in general, calling for “concerted efforts to tackle widespread impunity for such crimes.”
In 2018-2019, UNESCO – the UN cultural agency which speaks up for journalist safety and protection – documented 67 killings of journalists in countries experiencing armed conflict, among which, 23 were directly involved in covering battlefield hostilities.
“Apart from fatal attacks, journalists covering conflicts face a range of other threats including violence leading to injuries, arbitrary detention, denial of visas and restrictions to movement in, across or out of conflict zones”, said the Secretary-General’s statement.
Majority of deaths unsolved
Even though 2020 saw a “slight decrease” in the rate of impunity for crimes against journalists overall, 87 per cent of such cases worldwide were still not resolved, UNESCO reported earlier this month.
According to the Safety of Journalists and the Danger of Impunity, a report by UNESCO’s Director-General, only 13 per cent of cases globally involving crimes against journalists were reported “as resolved”, in comparison to 12 per cent in 2019, and 11 per cent in 2018.
The biennial report also said that in 2018-19, a total of 156 killings of journalists were recorded worldwide, and over the past decade, a journalist was killed – on average – every four days.
As of the end of September, 39 journalists had been killed in 2020, the report added.
The UN chief’s stated that “the fundamental role of journalists in ensuring access to reliable information is essential to achieving durable peace, sustainable development and human rights”, and recalled that all civilians, “including civilian journalists engaged in professional missions in areas of armed conflict, must be respected and protected under international humanitarian law.”
He called on all parties to conflict and combatants – as well as “the international community as a whole, to protect journalists and enable conditions for the exercise of their profession.”
‘A dangerous profession’
“Journalism remains a dangerous profession: the threats faced by journalists are many and wide-ranging”, said UNESCO’s report last week, which coincided with the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists.
“While casualties related to countries experiencing armed conflict have declined, fatal attacks against journalists covering stories related to corruption, human rights violations, environmental crimes, trafficking, and political wrongdoing have risen in other countries.”
The report is submitted every two years to UNESCO’s International Programme for the Development of Communication (IPDC) Intergovernmental Council, and opportunity for States to take stock of global developments and discuss challenges linked to promoting the safety of journalists and combatting impunity.
Television journalists constitute the largest group among the victims, according to the report.
Over 2018 and 2019, TV journalists constitute 30 per cent of the journalists killed with 47 fatalities, followed by radio with 24 per cent, and print media with 21 per cent of the killings.
Furthermore, as with previous years, a majority of victims were local journalists covering local stories, with 95 local journalists killed in 2018 and 56 local journalists lost their lives in 2019, representing 96 per cent and 98 per cent of the fatalities for the two years, respectively.
Mexican death toll rises
Only this week, a Mexican reporter who was about to go live on air for a digital news outlet, with a story reportedly involving the grisly discovery of human remains, was shot multiple times and died of his wounds soon after.
Israel Vazquez of the El Salmantino outlet, was in the city of Salamanca, according to news reports, and a special team is said to be investigating the journalist’s death although no arrests have been made so far.
He is the third journalist killed in Mexico within the last month, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, and nine have been killed in the past year, according to Reporters Without Borders.
Many of those killed over many years have been reporting on corruption, or the influential drugs cartels who often act with virtual impunity.