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.”
A free press is a hallmark of democracy. Yet around the world, journalists are under threat for doing their job, risking their lives to report the news, ask difficult questions and hold the corrupt to account. According to an International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) study released for World Press Freedom Day, “journalists face killings, attacks, violence, bans and intimidation on a daily basis” around the world.
At its most extreme, the assault on journalism leads to murder, often with impunity. According to the IFJ, 93 journalists were killed in 2016, and 13 in the opening months of 2017. Over the last decade, most murdered journalists were local reporters covering politics and corruption, notes the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), with about a third of them “first taken captive, the majority of whom were tortured, amplifying the killers’ message of intimidation to the media community.”
Mexico is one of the most dangerous places in the world for journalists, says the CPJ. Since 2010, more than 50 media workers were murdered or disappeared. The country ranks sixth on CPJ’s “Impunity Index,” which tracks the number of unsolved journalist murders as a percentage of population, in nations with five or more unsolved cases. Ahead of it are primarily countries in conflict: Somalia, Iraq, Syria, the Philippines and South Sudan.
Women journalists—targeted for their job as well as their gender—face additional challenges, including harassment and threats in the field, at the office and online. A soon-to-be-published survey of 214 women journalists in Pakistan, conducted by the Solidarity Center and Civic Action Resources, says that when women journalists are sexually harassed, “social taboos, segregation and stigma keep them
from speaking openly about it and seeking support. Since Pakistan is an honor-based society, any attack on a woman’s reputation can have serious repercussions for her, both professionally and personally.” The Solidarity Center works with Pakistani journalists—women and men—to achieve gender equality at the workplace and in the stories they report.
The CPJ also noted that a record number of media workers—259—were jailed in 2016. Nonetheless, journalists and their unions are taking a stand against rising authoritarianism and increasing restrictions on their ability to work. Around the world, reports the IFJ journalists’ unions are submitting formal protests to national and regional human rights bodies, advancing legal challenges and staging actions—from strikes to protests—“to defend media freedom and the rights of journalists.”
Gender-based violence at the workplace takes many forms—and for journalists, such abuse can mean sexual harassment at the office or assault in the field where they report stories.
In Pakistan, journalists and media professionals are learning how to prevent and address gender-based violence as part of Solidarity Center-sponsored trainings designed to assist media professionals in achieving gender equality at the workplace and in the stories they report.
“Journalists in Khyber Pakhtunkwa (in northwest Pakistan) are facing a lot of problems and specially female journalists face many issues in the field as well as in their offices,” says Samina Naz, a workshop participant and reporter at Radio Pakistan.
Harassment at the Workplace: Physical and Online
Launched in October, the ongoing Gender Equity and Physical Safety series has involved dozens of journalists and media professionals, many of whom are members of the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) or the All Pakistan Newspaper Employees Confederation (APNEC). Participants learn about the range of issues involved in gender equality, identify priority gender equality issues at their workplaces and in their unions, and outline strategies for addressing the issues.
Journalists engaged in role play during gender quality training. Credit: Solidarity Center/Immad Ashraf
Workshops are filling a critical void. Some 35 percent of female journalists said they had experienced workplace-related intimidation, threats or abuse, according to a Solidarity Center-Civic Action Resources survey conducted before the trainings among 214 women journalists. More than one-quarter of women journalists (27 percent) said they had been targeted by a digital security threat. Yet only 8 percent of female journalists said they had received training for physical security and 5 percent for digital security. (The Solidarity Center and the Pakistan-based Journalists for Democracy and Human Rights also are holding workshops for journalists focusing solely on physical safety and digital security.)
Women are particularly at risk in Pakistan, where domestic abuse, economic discrimination and acid attacks make Pakistan one of the world’s most dangerous countries for women. Further, at least 70 journalists have been killed in Pakistan since 2002, 14 of whom were murdered in 2014, leading the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) to name Pakistan as the most dangerous country for journalists.
The Solidarity Center is among many unions and other civil society organizations worldwide calling for the International Labor Organization to establish a standard covering gender-based violence at the workplace, an action that moved forward last fall when the ILO announced that a debate for the convention will be on its 2018 agenda.
Women Journalists Paid Less, Lack Job Security
Although the number of women in journalism has grown along with the explosion of media professionals since 2002, when Pakistan legalized private media ownership, they are far more likely than men to experience job precariousness and harassment on the job, and generally are paid less than men for performing the same job.
Participants mark completion of the Solidarity Center’s first gender equality training in October. Credit: Solidarity Center/Immad Ashraf
Some 39 percent of women journalists surveyed said they are working without a contract, making it far more difficult for them to seek redress for job-related issues like pay discrimination. Further, more than one third said they were paid less than their male counterparts, and 80 percent said they were not paid for working overtime.
Promoting the work and advancing the role of women in the news media across the globe is critical to transparency and the diversity of voices, and workshop participants plan to expand upon what they learned in part by training other workers, assisted with a train-the-trainer manual the Solidarity Center developed with IFJ. In a post-training survey, all participants also indicated they would ask for a gender policy at work, and a mechanism to address sexual harassment.
“Me and my affiliates have learned a lot from this training and will try to replicate the contents to the best of our knowledge and abilities,” said Syed Ikram Bukhari, APNEC secretary general who works at Group Editor Daily Janch.
As International Women’s Day spotlights “Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step It Up for Gender Equality” to build momentum for the effective implementation of the United Nations’s new Sustainable Development Goals, Pakistan journalists already are stepping it up for gender equality, women’s empowerment and women’s human rights.
Alexandre Niyungeko did not flee Burundi last April when a source told him the police were planning to kill a few journalists and civil society leaders—as a warning to protesters and critics of the government—and his name was on the list.
And when anonymous callers told him his days were numbered, Niyungeko, president of the Burundi Union of Journalists (BUJ), persisted in Bujumbura, the capital, though he did go into hiding. “It wasn’t the first time someone had tried to intimidate me,” he says, explaining that, as head of the union representing 400 journalists, he often raised complaints about infringements on freedom of the press.
The threats escalated in the days after police shuttered independent radio stations and surrounded the Press House, where union and independent journalist organizations—among them the Burundian broadcasters, women journalists and a media monitoring organization—had offices, and summarily shut it down. “It’s the first time in the history of Burundi that the press was closed by police without explanation,” he says, adding that when he asked authorities who had amassed outside the building to see the order for closure, he was told: “If you continue to ask questions, you’ll be in trouble.”
Not long after, his neighbors warned him that strangers were asking about him and his routine at home.
“I was being hunted,” he says. “And that day I realized my family could be hunted, too.”
Indeed, his worst fears became reality when someone threw a grenade into his apartment when his wife and children, ages 3, 6 and 8, were home. Fortunately no one was injured. But Niyungeko knew that the only way to protect them all was to leave. In May 2015, he waited until his family had safely entered the airport transit area with tickets to fly out of Bujumbura before he set off on a separate journey. He made the dangerous overland trip, avoiding half a dozen checkpoints along the way, and met them in Rwanda.
More than 230,000 Burundians have fled their country to escape the violent crackdown that has raged since last April, when people took to the streets to protest President Pierre Nkurunziza’s announcement that he would run for a third term. Some 72,000 refugees—among them hundreds of union leaders and their members, including at least 250 teachers—have sought shelter in neighboring Rwanda.
The government’s efforts to intimidate and control the press has forced at least 100 journalists into exile, the Committee to Protect Journalists reports, and many others have been arrested and jailed, says Niyungeko. In addition, two Western journalists were arrested and briefly held last week.
Niyungeko says it is difficult for the journalists’ union to continue activities, with many leaders and members in exile, though they managed to organize a workshop for 30 Journalists in Kigali, 20 exiled and 10 from Bujumbura. Meanwhile, they continue to monitor the situation at home.
The recent murders of three Pakistani journalists in separate incidents highlight the dangers media professionals in that country face daily on the job. And like workers in all industries, reporters, photographers and other media staff need tools to effectively address safety and health issues at work and ensure their fundamental human rights.
Pakistan journalists say they have not been trained in basic physical and online security techniques. Credit: Immad Ashraf
Following the launch of a recent series of Solidarity Center workshops that covered safety as well as gender equality, more than 60 journalists from around 15 local unions in Pakistan came away with the resources and information they need to better protect themselves against physical danger, online threats and gender discrimination and harassment.
“Journalists in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (in northwest Pakistan) are facing a lot of problems, especially female journalists, who face many issues in the field as well as in their offices,” says Samina Naz, a reporter for Radio Pakistan. “This training has broadened and clarified the concept of safety for me. Now I am more careful about my safety when I go to cover any story.”
Naz, who plans to share the techniques she learned with her colleagues, took part in the two-day training, Gender Equity & Physical Safety. The October workshop was the first in a series planned by the Solidarity Center in conjunction with the Pakistan-based Journalists for Democracy and Human Rights (JDHR) and the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ).
‘We’re Also Workers. What about Our Rights?
A second workshop in October covered physical safety and digital security. Dara Zafar, vice chairman of the All Pakistan Newspaper Employees Confederation-Karachi chapter and a layout assistant at The News International, took part and says he intends to “be more cautious about his physical safety and digital security” and noted he had previously received no training on security issues.
In fact, nearly all participants surveyed prior to the trainings said their organizations do not provide security assessment or analysis. Further, they said neither they nor their organizations had made safety plans for reporting in the field or working online.
Nighat Rafaq, Solidarity Center monitoring, evaluation and reporting manager for Pakistan, says the Solidarity Center developed a two-year training and development program after journalists asked: “We’re also workers. What about our rights? Who will talk about our rights?
“Previously, there were a lot of opportunities for journalists, but on their professional side—for example, improving reporting skills—but not on their rights as workers,” she says.
In 2002, Pakistan legalized private media ownership, which previously had been state owned. The action sparked a surge of electronic and print news outlets, and the number of journalists in Pakistan increased from 2,000 to more than 18,000 today, while the number of other media industry workers skyrocketed from 7,000 to more than 300,000.
“The rapid growth in the industry has been accompanied by a decrease in respect for journalists’ basic labor rights, including fair wages, decent employment conditions, trade union rights and physical safety on the job,” says Immad Ashraf, Solidarity Center program manager in Pakistan.
At least 70 journalists have been killed in Pakistan since 2002, 14 of whom were murdered last year, leading the International Federation of Journalists to name Pakistan as the most dangerous country for journalists.
Safety Trainings Set for Hundreds More Media Workers
Following the workshops, participants report being able to develop a safety plan and utilize survival tips when working in difficult environments. Nearly 80 percent say they now will be able to conduct security assessments and analyze a potentially dangerous situation for themselves and their colleagues before jumping into an assignment, and 86 percent report increased knowledge about their digital security-related vulnerabilities.
The Solidarity Center worked with the IFJ to develop a train-the-trainer manual for participants, so journalists can share tactics and knowledge with their colleagues. Similarly, another manual on gender equity and physical safety for women journalists and media workers also has been developed. The Solidarity Center will hold dozens more trainings in coming months, including workshops on paralegal education for 120 journalists and union leaders, and 14 two-day follow-up trainings for at least 340 journalists and other media workers.
Along with its allies, the Solidarity Center also will convene five one-day dialogue sessions for 250 representatives of journalists’ and media workers’ unions, media organizations and government agencies to discuss improving laws and policies on working conditions in the media sector. Another goal is to establish a legal fund to support individual and collective legal cases with potential to impact worker rights, working conditions and the physical security of journalists and media workers.
In Pakistan, where journalists often report on human rights issues, media professionals now have the opportunity to focus on their own human rights as workers. Siddiq Anzar, chairman of the Islamabad & Rawalpindi chapter of All Pakistan Newspaper Employees Confederation and president of Islam Press and Workers Union, put it this way:
“After the training and having been exposed to the content and techniques, I now feel empowered.”