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March 28, 2012

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UN agency to draw up plan to protect journalists

Curbing violence against journalists and addressing the impunity of crimes committed against them is to be the focus of a new UN action plan.

The Council of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation’s (UNESCO) International Programme for the Development of Communication (IPDC) has requested that the work plan be prepared by UNESCO director-general Irina Bokova and be presented to its executive board next spring.

The Council also commended the progress of the work undertaken by UN agencies and other stakeholders in preparing a draft ‘UN Plan of Action’, which aims to establish a coordinated strategy for ensuring a safe environment for media professionals. The aim of the plan is to work “toward the creation of a free and safe environment for journalists and media workers in both conflict and non-conflict situations, with a view to strengthening peace, democracy and development worldwide”.

According to a report by the director-general, there were 127 killings of media professionals between 2010 and 2011; 123 during 2008-2009; and 122 between 2006 and 2007. Furthermore, many of the deaths are met with impunity, with the perpetrators of the crimes escaping prosecution.

In a House of Commons debate last week, the UK government was urged to do more to influence the international community to take sanctions against countries that fail to investigate the deaths and imprisonment of journalists.

Don Foster MP called on the Government to press UNESCO to make it absolutely clear that the promotion of safety and the ending of impunity have to apply in non-conflict areas, as well as in war zones.

He said: “‘Conflict’ should be viewed in its broadest interpretation. States where there is impunity should have to face a persistent international publicity campaign – not once a year but every time they acquiesce in, sanction, or turn a blind eye to the murder of a journalist. They should be made responsible for their negligence and, in many cases, their complicity.”

In response, Foreign and Commonwealth Office minister Jeremy Browne said: “We fully support the aim to strengthen the mandate and working methods of UNESCO and other United Nations bodies to tackle violence against journalists and the high levels of impunity.

“We welcome initiatives that encourage UN agencies and special rapporteurs to work closer together and. . . we are already pressing UNESCO to be more transparent and speed up the publication of its information on the killing of journalists. We also support the proposals to raise greater awareness of the issue and to encourage states to fulfil their commitments on media freedoms.”

Commenting after the debate, Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary, said: “The UK government must take the lead in shining the spotlight on countries that appear to be dragging their feet in the protection of journalists; raising awareness; assisting [UN] member states to develop their own legislation and mechanisms for protecting journalists; improving collaboration with relevant agencies; and developing further safety initiatives, which might include the creation of so-called ‘media corridors’ in conflict zones.”

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