Murdering journalists with impunity

Posted by: Prof Richard Sambrook

Tomorrow, November 23rd, is the International Day to End Impunity. It marks the anniversary of the 2009 Maguindanao, Ampatuan massacre in the Philippines when 58 people – including 32 journalists – were murdered. None of those responsible have yet been brought to justice.

It is still the case that on average two journalists a week are killed – week in, week out – doing their job. Most of them are local journalists investigating crime or corruption who are murdered as a form of brutal censorship and as a warning to others. In most cases the killers are never found – they kill with impunity. Violence on this scale has a chilling effect across independent journalism. In countries like Mexico, the Philippines, and Russia only the most committed of journalists continue to defy those who want them silenced.

That is a problem not only for journalists, their families and news organisations. It is a problem for the communities in which they work – where intimidation allows crime and corruption to flourish. Violence against journalists is not just an issue for the media – it is an issue for society as a whole which suffers when free information and reporting is stifled. Hence the global campaign to end impunity. This last week there have been events around the world, campaigning by letter, social media and more to highlight this insidious issue.

UNESCO has also convened a series of meetings with UN agencies, governments and civil society organisations to enact the U.N. Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity. This calls for strengthening the office of the U.N. special rapporteur for free expression, assisting member states in developing national laws to prosecute the killers of journalists, and establishing a U.N. inter-agency mechanism to evaluate journalist safety.The third meeting is today – and they should be coming forward with actions and recommendations.

However this is no guarantee of success. The Committee to Protect Journalists estimates that government officials or allied military groups are responsible for more than a third of journalist murders. In other words in some of the worst countries there is impunity for killing journalists because it’s the authorities that are doing the killing.

Campaigns like the International Day to End Impunity do make a difference. They raise awareness of an important and complicated issue. They provide an opportunity for lobby groups, media, politicians, and individuals to raise their collective voice and be heard. It sends a signal to those responsible for murder that their actions will not be forgotten or overlooked. And it offers support to the families, friends and colleagues of those killed as they face an often difficult or traumatic future.

The statistics are bad enough – but of course they are not just numbers. They are husbands and wives, mothers and fathers, sons and daughters. And with each one murdered, a light goes out and darkness encroaches a little more. Please support the campaign to end impunity and help throw some light back on those responsible.

This post was originally published by the International News Safety Institute