According to International Federation of Journalists’ statistics, 112 journalists lost their lives when carrying out their duties in 2015. Today only one out of 10 killings in the media is investigated.
The situation for non-fatal attacks on journalists is even worst. Governments fail in their duty to hunt down the harassers, the attackers, the killers of media workers. Impunity not only endangers journalists, it imperils democracy and compromises hopes for peace and development. Legal guarantees exist for the protection of journalists as civilians which states are duty bound to enforce under domestic and international law. Impunity breeds impunity and feeds into a vicious cycle.
According to the 2014 UNESCO Director-General’s Report on the Safety of Journalists and the Danger of Impunity, less than seven percent of the 593 cases of killings of journalists from 2006-2013 have been resolved. A quarter of these cases are considered as “ongoing” referring to their continued investigations over the various stages of the judicial system. In 60 percent of the cases, no information on the judicial process was made available to UNESCO notwithstanding the Director-General’s requests for such.
The United Nations General Assembly adopted Resolution A/RES/68/163 at its 68th session in 2013 which proclaimed 2 November as the ‘International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists’. The Resolution urged Member States to implement definite measures countering the present culture of impunity. The date was chosen in commemoration of the assassination of two French journalists in Mali on 2 November 2013.
This landmark resolution condemns all attacks and violence against journalists and media workers. It also urges Member States to do their utmost to prevent violence against journalists and media workers, to ensure accountability, bring to justice perpetrators of crimes against journalists and media workers, and ensure that victims have access to appropriate remedies. It further calls upon States to promote a safe and enabling environment for journalists to perform their work independently and without undue interference.
When attacks on journalists remain unpunished, a very negative message is sent that reporting the “embarrassing truth” or “unwanted opinions” will get ordinary people in trouble. Furthermore, society loses confidence in its own judiciary system which is meant to protect everyone from attacks on their rights. Perpetrators of crimes against journalists are thus emboldened when they realize they can attack their targets without ever facing justice.
Society as a whole suffers from impunity. The kind of news that gets “silenced” is exactly the kind that the public needs to know. Information is quintessential in order to make the best decisions in their lives, be it economic, social or political. This access to reliable and quality information is the very cornerstone of democracy, good governance, and effective institutions.