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28 February 2019

UN Secretary-General Calls On Governments To Protect Journalists

The Secretary-General of the United Nations has described attacks on journalists as “outrageous” and called for Governments across the world to take action to protect media workers.

In a speech in Geneva, UN Secretary-General António Guterres described in detail the benefits of journalism to society but said that this was under threat by increasing attacks on media workers.

He said: “Last year alone, UNESCO reports that at least 99 journalists were killed. Many thousands more have been attacked, harassed, detained or imprisoned on spurious charges, without due process.

“This is outrageous. This should not become the new normal. When journalists are targeted, societies as a whole pay a price. And I am deeply troubled by the growing number of attacks and the culture of impunity.

“No democracy is complete without press freedom. Nor can any society be fair and impartial without journalists who investigate wrongdoing and speak truth to the power.”

The Secretary-General said that the media has brought to light to “dramatic human suffering in conflict zones, major cases of corruption and nepotism, ethnic cleansing, premeditated sexual and gender-based violence and more” from every corner of the globe, but journalists were now facing harassment and intimidation.

Addressing the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, Foreign Office Minister Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon highlighted the UK Government’s campaign to protect media freedom which will focus upon an international conference jointly hosted with the Government of Canada in London on 10 and 11 July.

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt is to make media freedom a top priority for the coming year, placing the UK at the at the forefront of “a growing international consensus” on the need to take action against countering hostile state disinformation, in which independent media would play a “crucial role.” 

In his speech in Geneva, Lord Ahmad said: “Mr President, media freedom plays an essential role in protecting all other human rights and freedoms. A free media helps people form their own opinions, and it holds governments and corporations to account. It is a vital foundation for any healthy democracy.

“That is why journalists should be free to do their jobs without fearing for their safety. Yet in many parts of the world, the statistics tell another story. Indeed, according to Reporters Without Borders, 2018 was the most dangerous year on record to be a journalist. 80 were murdered, 348 imprisoned and a further 60 taken hostage.

“That is why, this year, the UK has launched a campaign to champion media freedom. We want the world to know that journalism is not a crime. On the contrary, media freedom is an essential element of the human right of freedom of expression.

“Our campaign will advocate for the benefits of a free media; it will generate international support for the protection of journalists; and it will press for legislation to protect media freedom, not constrain it.”

In his speech, the Secretary-General said the international community could not remain silent as the media faced a “sustained campaign” of harassment and intimidation.  He added: “The news that is suppressed – reports about corruption, conflicts of interest, illegal trafficking and crimes and abuses of all kinds – is exactly the information the public needs to know.

“I call on Governments and the international community to protect journalists and media workers, and to create the conditions they need to do their essential work, and to investigate and prosecute the perpetrators of attacks on them.

“I am personally committed to defending press freedom and the safety of journalists. And I will continue to express my deep concern about this issue to Governments and leaders, both privately and in public, and to urge them to comply with their obligations. We need leaders to defend a free media and to counter disinformation.”