A crucial discussion will take place in Paris today about how best to protect journalists from being murdered.
Most importantly, it will touch on the sensitive issue of impunity – the failure of authorities to investigate the killing of journalists, which is seen as an encouragement to murderers.
The meeting of the Unesco body known as the International Programme for Development Communication (IPDC) will debate a 10-point document aimed at raising the profile of a subject that requires greater attention from the United Nations.
It follows a Westminster debate yesterday in which the Lib-Dem MP Don Foster said:
“The continuing high level of media deaths cries out for more action by international institutions such as the United Nations to force governments to pay more attention to the safety crisis facing journalists and media.”
The draft document registers its “deep concern” at “the increased frequency of acts of violence against journalists, media professionals and associated personnel.”
It points out that various international resolutions supposed to protect journalists from violence and murder already exist.
But it wants to see those words transformed into positive action. It calls on UNESCO’s member states to comply with their obligations under international law to end impunity and to prosecute violators.
Among those taking part in today’s discussion will be Article 19, the International Press Institute and the Doha Center for Media Freedom.
They support an initiative to create a coordinated inter-agency mechanism to handle issues related to the safety of journalists and impunity, and to incorporate them into UN contributions to national strategies.
They will also debate the possibility of the UN assisting countries to develop legislation favourable to freedom of expression and information as well as to implement existing international rules and principles.
There was clear support for the principles from British MPs in yesterday’s debate. Foster spoke of the deaths of the Sunday Times’s reporter Marie Colvin and the French photographer Remi Ochlik in Syria last month.
These were examples of journalists dying while covering conflict. But he said that 60% of journalistic deaths in 2011 “occurred away from conflict zones”.
“More has to be done to improve safety and combat impunity,” he said, and called on the UK government to do more to press for investigations into deaths that happen abroad.
“We want our government to speak out forcefully for press freedom”.
He was backed by Labour MP John McDonnell who urged the government to take the lead in “standing up for journalists around the world.”
The foreign office minister Jeremy Brown responded by asserting that the government “is deeply concerned about the safety of journalists”.
MPs should be assured, he said, that the government is “providing assistance for journalists working in difficult environments”.
(Spc. Seth Barham, broadcast journalist with 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, takes footage during a recent mission by DVIDSHUB via Flickr)