Spotlight on the Safety of Journalists

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Paying the price for the freedom of the press and the safety of journalists?

On 31st October, Webster Geneva’s Media Communication Department, together with Reporters without Borders (Switzerland) shed light on the price we pay for impunity for crimes committed against journalists.

On Sunday, the water jets of Geneva were one of 24 monuments around the world shining in blue to honor International Human Rights Day.

The issue of the safety of journalists incorporates several fundamental human rights: the right to freedom from violence, free speech, access to information and a free society; all of these are increasingly under threat.

This was the key message at the Spotlight Seminar, organised by Webster Geneva’s Media Communication Department in collaboration with Reporters without Borders, Switzerland to commemorate the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Committed Against Journalists.

Although international law condemns crimes against journalists – as it does violence against any civilians in armed combat – in practice, journalists are afforded little protection as they go about their work. More worryingly still, they are increasingly targeted.

Alain Modoux, currently Vice-President of ICT4Peace, who has worked for several decades to make journalists safer at the ICRC and UNESCO, spoke of his concerns that the issue of impunity for these crimes has failed to attract the international attention it deserves, despite the international resolutions and laws that have been passed. Some hope can be found in initiatives such as the hotline he was instrumental in creating at the ICRC that provides assistance to journalists working on dangerous assignments.

Whilst the most publicised cases involve the murder of journalists such as the recent case of Daphne Caruana Galizia in Malta, journalists face many risks, including threats to themselves or their families, arbitrary arrest and physical violence.

Gaetan Vannay, journalist and COO of Securaxis (that provides services to help keep journalists safe), evoked his personal experience of reporting from conflict zones, attesting to numerous instances when he suffered beatings and threats or was arrested for doing his job. These violent actions silence journalists and – as well as being a fundamental threat to human rights – threaten their ability to work and our ability to be informed by quality reporting from the ground.

How can we contribute to making journalists safe and ensuring that we retain access to quality reporting? According to Vannay, part of the onus lies on those who employ journalists; it may be easier (and less expensive) to buy a story from a freelancer, rather than investing in the security measures needed to keep a journalist who they employ safe. Security measures cost money.

Often, however, it seems, that we no longer pay to access the news. As consumers, we can make a small but significant contribution to the safety of journalists – and to the freedom of information – by investing in quality journalism to send editors a clear message about the value we place on being informed and having access to quality information. Otherwise, we may have to question whether a press that is free, can remain entirely free.

Words: Dr Sarah Grosso, Media Communications Department Faculty.
Photos: Zain Abbas