With Elections Around The Corner, UN Body Urges Protection Of Journalists

Pakistan is listed among the top 12 countries where those perpetrating attacks on journalists get away after committing the crime

With Elections Around The Corner, UN Body Urges Protection Of Journalists

With elections in Pakistan and several other countries slated to be held next year, the United Nations has pointed to rising violence against journalists and urged governments to address this issue systemically.

In the policy brief issued by UNESCO on Thursday titled "The Role of Law Enforcement Agents: Ensuring the Safety of Journalists During Public Demonstrations and Elections", it stated that between January 2019 and June 2022, at least 759 attacks were mounted against journalists. There were at least five fatalities during 89 elections in 70 countries. 

The policy brief, which was released on Thursday to coincide with the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists, said that of the 759 attacks UNESCO had documented, 42% involved journalists being attacked by law enforcement agents. 

Reiterating that there was a clear link between the right to participate in public affairs and the full realisation of the right to freedom of expression and the right of access to information, it said that holding peaceful public demonstrations was also a right and that it was a mark of states who were committed to upholding the rule of law and enabling a transparent, open and democratic society.

However, it noted that journalists continue to be targeted for covering political rallies or other political events, with at least 13 journalists killed since 2015, with a total of 101 attacks against journalists covering political events or protests from January 2015 to August 2021.

The brief said that law enforcement agencies need to understand that journalists are also looking for engaging ways to inform their audiences or readers about what is happening - and very often, that will be through attention-grabbing sudden life-and-death events, accidents, disasters and conflict.

The brief said that it is often the case that LEAs view the media as hostile or believe they treat LEAs unfairly, resulting in strained or difficult relationships.

It said that agencies monitoring the safety of journalists had noted a dramatic increase in LEA violations of media freedom when dealing with protests, and, in 2020, UNESCO highlighted this rise in its report ‘Safety of Journalists Covering Protests - Preserving Freedom of the Press During Times of Civil Unrest’. It called for more training for both LEAs and journalists on how to behave during protests to ensure the safety of the media and support freedom of expression. 

From January 2015 to August 2021, UNESCO said it had recorded attacks against journalists covering protests, demonstrations and riots in at least  101 countries. A large majority of attacks against journalists covering public demonstrations were perpetrated by LEAs and included attacks such as beatings and arbitrary arrests.

At the same time, UNESCO said, journalists faced many physical and verbal attacks from demonstrators and people attending protests. 

Journalists have also been subjected to raids of media offices and the physical destruction of journalistic material in retaliation for coverage of protests.

While the brief was based on data collected in 101 countries, it did not name countries directly for having concentrations of violence against journalists. But it did point out that LEAs detained dozens of journalists covering protests in Asia, sub-Saharan Africa, North America, Europe, Latin America, North Africa and the Middle East - or most parts of the world.

Some of these arrests were temporary, and either no charges were filed or they were dropped later by authorities. In some cases, journalists were arrested individually; in others, several journalists were arrested while covering protests.

In some instances, UNICEF said, the governments had recognised this and had taken measures to reduce violations. 

It pointed towards UNESCO guidelines issued in the context of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), which call for protecting journalists from "arrests and/or questioning by law enforcement, limitations to report on the situation and possible disruptions in the operation of hospitals, healthcare facilities, public transportation or other public spaces."

In the context of elections, it said that some 759 journalists and media professionals were attacked during election periods in 70 countries. 

Of these, 338 media workers faced physical assaults, with nine journalists murdered, 167 arbitrarily detained, 123 obstructed from carrying out their work and 131 faced threats and intimidation.

Of the total attacks during elections, 42% were carried out by law enforcement agents. 

Around 28% of journalists attacked were women, with the proportion of intimidation and violence against women journalists also increasing. The brief said that gender-based violence in politics and elections is a direct attack on freedom of expression, impeding women’s rights to freedom of participation.

Not just journalists but media organisations were also attacked, with 129 media outlets receiving threats, facing censorships, raids, arson, and even suspension of licences or broadcasts and forced closures.

Unicef recommended training LEAs and other government authorities on the rights of journalists, including providing access, accreditation and setting up special areas for journalists to safely report from in the event of large public interest events.

During elections, UNICEF said it is vital for LEAs to remain neutral and demonstrate this neutrality through their communication, behaviour and the arrangements they put in place through ‘The Election Cycle’, the various stages before, during and after an election. Consideration should be given to the coverage needs and safety of press members in all operational planning.

Particular attention should be devoted to the specific threats and risks that women journalists face in their work, and it is important to take a gender-sensitive approach when considering measures to address the safety of journalists, especially online. Gender diversity of LEAs working with journalists and around public assemblies and elections should be encouraged to enable this approach. 

Pakistan at 11 on CPJ's impunity index

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), in its annual Global Impunity Index in the edition for 2023, has ranked Pakistan on 11, just one spot above India at 12, in the ranking for impunity for those who attack journalists.

The report, released earlier in the week, ranked Syria, Somalia and Haiti among its top three countries with the highest rates of impunity.

It noted that Pakistan, together with India, Somalia, Iraq, Mexico and the Philippines, have remained on the index since its inception around 16 years ago. Afghanistan has also been on the list for years, along with Syria.

The index noted that there remain at least eight unsolved murders of journalists in Pakistan during the period under review for this year's index. Of those, four are believed to have been carried out by criminals, two by political groups - Shahid Zehri in October 2021 and Zaman Mehsud in November 2015. 

"CPJ has documented numerous press freedom violations in the country following the ouster of former Prime Minister Imran Khan in April 2022. 

While the index acknowledged that 33 journalists had been killed in Gaza since hostilities began on October 7, they were excluded from the index since they fell outside the 10-year index period.

Overall, it said that the CPJ had recorded the deaths of 956 journalists worldwide since 992. Of these, 757 - more than 79% - have gone wholly unprosecuted.

On the ranking, CPJ explained that it was calculated based on the proportion of their population size. As a result, countries like Mexico, India and Pakistan were lower on the list despite having a higher number of journalists murdered.

DigiMAP stands for press freedom and justice

DigiMAP (Digital Media Alliance of Pakistan) on Thursday joined the global community in observing the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists on November 2, 2023.

In a statement, DigiMAP said that this year holds particular significance as it aligns with the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights.

The alliance said that in a world where journalism stands as a beacon of truth, they recognise and celebrate the vital contributions of journalists and media professionals.

"They play a crucial role in combating disinformation and hate speech while promoting transparency and accountability in government and public institutions," it said.

Referring to the recently published Freedom Network Impunity Report 2023 it said that Pakistan's struggle to protect journalists through legislation had resulted in increased attacks on media practitioners.

The report urgently called for establishing a safety commission under the federal Protection of Journalists and Media Professionals Act, adequate
resourcing for Sindh's Commission for the Protection of Journalists and Other Media Practitioners and the adoption of similar safety laws in other provinces.

Commenting on the CPJ Global Impunity
Index for 2023, DigiMAP expressed its deep concerns by these alarming statistics, which highlight the failure of the state to fulfil its international and national obligations to protect and enable journalists to perform their duties without fear, thereby ensuring that crimes against the press are thoroughly investigated and

DigiMAP's President Sabookh Syed and General Secretary Adnan Aamir stressed that Pakistan is bound by international law to swiftly and thoroughly investigate attacks on journalists and bring the responsible parties to justice.

"This obligation is firmly enshrined in international and national human rights instruments, as well as various United Nations protocols and resolutions, all of which unequivocally mandate states to provide effective remedies for human rights violations."

DigiMAP called for the freedom of journalists and media professionals in
Pakistan to cover upcoming elections, including the pre-election period, without the fear of violence, threats, state-imposed restrictions, or legal actions that stifle free speech or target journalists. 

With general elections on the horizon amid political uncertainty and transition, DigiMAP expressed deep
apprehension about the potential for violence, intimidation, and restrictive measures.

Reiterating its dedication to advocating for the rights, safety, and freedom of
journalists, DigiMAP said it will continue to support initiatives aimed at ending impunity for crimes against journalists.