Two media workers have been murdered each week on average this year—73 to date, making it likely the number of those killed will meet or exceed that of 2017, when 82 media workers were murdered, according to data compiled by the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ).
Yet the culprits are rarely held accountable for these crimes.
“The biggest reason people continue to do it is because they know they can get away with it. As long as impunity is at 90 percent, most people think they’re not going to be held to account for it,” IFJ Deputy General Secretary Jeremy Dear said in an interview with the Solidarity Center. Countries that bill themselves as democracies, such as Brazil and Mexico, are among those where government officials and criminal groups go unpunished for murdering journalists in high numbers.
In 2013, the United Nations designated November 2 as International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists, yet the impunity rate has remain unchanged, even as attacks are increasing. Last month, representatives of journalists, media workers broadcasters and newspapers around the world took their case to the UN to urge creation of a UN Convention dedicated to the protection of media professionals.
The campaign for the convention emphasizes that holding accountable perpetrators of violence against media workers would not only benefit individual journalists, but society.
“It is not just the individual’s right that is being denied, but it is the collective right of societies to information—and yet at the moment there is no means for a third party to be able to seek redress for attacks against journalists,” says Dear.
Hundreds of journalists also are jailed each year on false charges, according to the Committee to Project Journalists. Among them is Gaspar Matalaev, an Alternative Turkmenistan News reporter. Matalaev was arrested in October 2016, two days after his report on state-orchestrated forced labor of children and adults in Turkmenistan’s cotton harvest. (Sign and share a petition in support of his immediate release.)
The proposed convention also would address arbitrary arrest and detention, include an expedited procedure to address violations of worker rights, and codify journalistic guidelines and criteria into a stronger enforcement mechanism. (To add your organization’s name to support the Convention, sign here.)
Attacks Rise against Women Media Workers
More than half of women in media have suffered work-related abuse, threats or physical attacks in the past year, according to a survey this year by the International Women’s Media Foundation (IWMF) and TrollBusters. An IFJ survey of women media workers earlier this year found similar responses. Nearly two-thirds of respondents to the IWMF survey said they had suffered online harassment or threats, with more than one in 10 reporting it happened often or daily. Of those, approximately 40 percent said they avoided reporting certain stories as a result of online harassment.
Yet “up to three-quarters of media workplaces have no reporting or support mechanism,” broadcast journalist Mindy Ran said at a panel on challenging impunity and gender-based violence against women journalists and media workers in March. Without safe and structured systems for reporting gender-based violence at work, employees are less likely to seek assistance—and, as the IFJ survey found, 66 percent of journalists who had experienced some form of gender-based violence said they had made no formal complaint.
“Often they suffer a double jeopardy—on the grounds of being a journalist, and being attacked for that, and on the grounds of being a woman,” says Dear. Online attacks are especially prevalent, he says, citing cases in which governments have set up websites to assail women’sreputations on the basis of sexual identity or morality and for challenging cultural norms.
“It is an increasing trend in the way of discrediting somebody as a journalist in attacking their integrity and their character with the aim of making them either censor themselves or give up being a journalist.”
Journalists Targeted as Authoritarianism Spreads
Underlying the rising attacks against journalists is the broader global clampdown on human rights in which worker rights are among the most frequently violated.
“You have an increasing number of governments who rely on more authoritarian means to achieve their objectives,” Dear says. Such regimes, once limited to a few countries, now are “all over the world.”
Anti-terrorism laws provide governments new tools for repression.
“This idea of misusing laws that are designed to stop terrorism, designed to stop criminality but in fact are increasingly used against journalists and civil society to prevent any kind of alternative view any kind of dissent in a society.”
As the eyes and ears of their societies, journalists and media workers are instrumental in preserving and advancing freedoms fundamental to human rights.
When journalists are threatened, attacked or imprisoned, says Dear, the effect “is self-censorship, which damages societies, damages democracy, has an impact on citizen’s right to know.”