Thursday, 2 November is the designated day to remind people everywhere of the need to end impunity for crimes committed against journalists. The global impunity index currently stands at 86%, and an ever growing number of high profile cases remain unsolved, or in limbo.  

Martha Ramos, Chief Editorial Officer of Organizacion Editorial Mexicana (OEM) and President of the World Editors Forum, has a front row seat watching the failures to get justice.  

“Attacks against journalists have become normalised and, to a certain extent, made invisible; such acts don’t seem to worry the society we serve enough. And evidently, the level of impunity in these cases is very high. In my country, Mexico, it is higher than 96%,” notes Ramos.  

So what can newsrooms do? Some tactics are suggested in the concept note for the official UNESCO-led campaign activities for Nov 2.

Newsrooms can:

call for “greater global awareness of the main challenges faced by journalists and communicators in the exercise of their profession”

“highlight and warn about attacks and restrictions on the press in the context of coverage of social protests”

expose “a context of constant stigmatisation and discrediting by public officials and leaders towards the press”

“emphasise the situation of violence against journalists and media workers during election periods” and

explore “the obligation of States to adopt effective measures to protect the independent press and strengthen institutional frameworks that combat violence and impunity, and promote media independence, sustainability and diversity.”

Mistrusted, maligned, targeted

“I believe that we in the media industry have not been forceful enough in opening up to our readers in an exercise of transparency, explaining the risks and costs, both physical and financial, that our work entails,” says Ramos. 

“We now face a growing number of politicians who have found that attacking the media is good for their campaigns. This situation demands that we walk in solidarity with all our media colleagues. The story of a murdered and harmed journalist should have repercussions in the media around the world.”

Also See: Exercise of professional journalism needs new governmental support

Whether murdered, killed in crossfire and combat, or on dangerous assignments, the cost to journalism is huge. In 2022, the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED) recorded nearly 520 incidents of violence targeting journalists in at least 78 countries around the world, up from just over 460 in 2021. At last count, 27 journalists have died in the Israel-Hamas conflict alone.

“Today, the bravery of our colleagues in Gaza has shown the important role journalism plays in creating opinions from balanced and objective news reports in the face of such a complex conflict. We see even there, an attempt to shut down the free voice of the media, under allegations of national security,” adds Ramos. 

The media has the highest responsibility to report as objectively as possible, because critical voices that normally existed in the political, business and social spheres are extinguished.” 

Also See: Killing with impunity: Vast majority of journalists’ murderers go free

The latest figures for journalists killed, injured or missing will be released along with the 2 November campaigns, but we can count on the continuance of a trend that surfaced in 2016: journalists have become less safe in countries not experiencing armed conflict. 

Source: Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED)

This is perhaps most evident in Latin America and the Caribbean, where 69 journalists had been killed by July 2023, according to UNESCO monitoring figures.

“In Latin America and Mexico specifically, there is a common factor: the threat of organised crime. With such a weak rule of law, journalists have chosen not to cover certain events that could put their integrity or that of their family at risk,” says Ramos.

”Therefore, there are truly areas of silence, where we do not know what is happening. Therefore, society is also more vulnerable.”

Mexico is the Western Hemisphere’s most dangerous country for journalists, says the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ): “Mexico is ranked sixth-worst country in the world for prosecuting journalists’ killings, just below Somalia, Syria and Afghanistan; but in those countries, war and mass unrest block justice.”

The CPJ has documented 28 unsolved murders of journalists in Mexico from 2012-2022. Despite the 2012 adoption of The Protection Mechanism for Human Rights Defenders and Journalists, killings have not abated;  2022 was deadliest, and requests for protection from The Mechanism rose 88% that year.

“I think attempts to refine and modify laws within our own countries to avoid the level of impunity still depends a lot on the political will of whoever is in power at the time,” says Ramos.

“It is essential then to raise our voice of demands beyond our borders, in international organisations, such as WAN-IFRA, Reporters Without Borders, etc… that have the independence and freedom of action to forcefully pressure the application of the law.”

Source: UNESCO

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