UNESCO raises flag on rising number of murdered journalists

The safety of journalists remains under threat

24 March 2010 – Increasing numbers of journalists are being killed worldwide, mostly in countries that are at peace, the United Nations Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organization (UNESCO) says in a new report, calling for an end to impunity in the murders of media professionals.

Last year set a new record, with 77 murders reported by the agency. The high number is due in part to the murder of some 30 journalists in one day during an ambush in the Philippines on 23 November 2009, the publication says.

The figure exceeded the previous record of 69 set in 2006, when violence in Iraq was rampant.

The number of journalists murdered dropped in 2007 and 2008, recording 53 and 48 killings respectively, partly because of the improvement of the situation in Iraq.

The report also finds that the percentage of murders in 2008-09 that were not linked to conflicts rose in comparison to the previous two-year period. Most victims were not foreign war correspondents, but rather local journalists who were working in countries at peace.

“Sadly, the frequency of acts of violence against journalists is increasing,” it notes. “In most cases, impunity precludes the way of justice, and if this trend prevails, journalists will remain easy targets.

“Needless to say this represents a severe threat to freedom of expression and to our ability to seek the truth.”

At least 80 per cent of the 125 murders in 2008-2009 were due to attacks specifically targeting the victims by “those who do not wish journalists to investigate and reveal information of public interest,” the publication finds.

Following up on a 2008 report, the new publication underscores that the absence of threats against journalists is “essential to protect the right of all citizens to reliable information and the right of journalists to provide it without fearing for their security.”

The report’s release will coincide with the three-day meeting of the Intergovernmental Council of the International Programme for the Development of Communication (IPDC) in Paris, set to kick off tomorrow.

The body will propose a one-minute silence to be observed in newsrooms around the globe on World Press Freedom Day, 3 May, to honour journalists killed every year.

Since 1997, the head of UNESCO has condemned any physical attacks on journalists, with the current Director-General, Irina Bokova, emphasizing that “only the political willingness of States to bring to justice the murderers of journalists and thus put an end to impunity will, finally, be the best protection for press professionals.”

In a related development, Ms. Bokova today spoke out against the recent killings of journalists in Honduras and Mexico.

Nahúm Palacios Arteaga, 34, the news director for the television channel Canal 5 and the host of a news programme on Radio Tocoa. He is the third journalist to be killed in Honduras this year.

His killing, the UNESCO chief said, “is a denial of freedom of information, a fundamental right that is a cornerstone of a democratic society.”

Another person travelling in the car with the slain journalist was severely wounded, while a cameraman riding in the back of the vehicle was grazed by a bullet. Investigators have reportedly found 42 bullet holes in the car.

According to the non-governmental organization (NGO) known as the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), the victim – who had covered drug trafficking, local politics and a conflict between landowners and peasants in the Aguán region – had previously received death threats.

Honduras, said the International Press Institute (IPI), an NGO, is the second most country for dangerous country for journalists this year, after Mexico.

In that country, the body of Evaristo Pacheco Solis, a reporter with the weekly Visión Informativa, was found on 12 March in the south-western state of Guerrero, in yet another murder condemned by Ms. Bokova.

The CPJ is trying to ascertain whether his killing was linked to his work as a journalist.

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