Paris, France

13 September 2011

Secretary-General's message to UN Inter-Agency Meeting on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity (delivered by Kiyo Akasaka, Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information)

I am pleased to send my greetings to all the participants in this important meeting on ensuring safety of journalists and fighting impunity for the violence that so frequently targets them.

I thank UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova for initiating this process following a proposal by the Intergovernmental Council of the International Programme for the Development of Communication.

I am also glad that this effort to formulate a plan of action to protect journalists will be developed through a broad partnership of international and regional institutions, professional organizations and non-governmental organizations with expertise in this field.

The United Nations stands with you in this effort, which lies at the heart of the information society in which we live. Freedom of expression and press freedom are among the foundations of democracy and peace. Attacks on journalists are attacks against everything the United Nations stands for.

In an era of tumultuous change, and at a time when cyber-surveillance, digital harassment and censorship of the Internet have emerged as new barriers to media freedom, Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights remains of bedrock importance.

The press can never be free if journalists and media workers are under attack. Those who murder, kidnap, harass, arrest or intimidate journalists not only stop the free flow of information, they stifle the ability of millions of people to have their stories told. Quite apart from the violence and the suffering such crimes bring, I am also dismayed when they are not thoroughly investigated and prosecuted. Only by putting an end to impunity can we break this vicious cycle.

In 2006, the UN Security Council adopted resolution 1738, condemning deliberate attacks against journalists, media professionals and associated personnel in situations of armed conflict. We all welcome the Council's engagement on the issue, including its emphasis on the responsibility of States to protect journalists in conflict situations and prosecute those who harm them.

But we must also recognize that the great majority of those killed, wounded or harassed are not journalists working in conflict settings; rather, they are local practitioners pursuing stories in peacetime –stories of corruption and wrong-doing that are vital to expose yet which can prompt violent reactions from entrenched interests.

This reality makes it imperative to address these issues not only at the local, national and regional levels, but also at the international level, where the United Nations can play a useful role. In the spirit of Delivering as One, I urge the entities of the UN system to join forces, explore what you can do individually and collectively, and come up with a common approach that will help protect journalists and fight impunity for their killers. Let us do our utmost to ensure that the media can do its indispensable work on behalf of humankind. I wish you all the best for a successful meeting and look forward to learning about the results.