Human rights day: WACC puts spotlight on violence against journalists
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Human rights day: WACC puts spotlight on violence against journalists

On International Human Rights Day, December 10, WACC Global calls attention to the horrendous violence and abuse against journalists.

“Investigative journalism is the backbone of a well-functioning democracy,” said Philip Lee, WACC General Secretary. “When the integrity and lives of journalists are threatened, civil society suffers.”

About 500 journalists were killed between 2014 and 2018, or an average of two journalists per week, according to a report from UNESCO, Intensified Attacks, New Defences. This data represented an 18% increase in killings compared to the preceding five-year period (2009-2013), said the report.

From January to November 2019, at least 36 journalists, 10 citizen journalists, and three media assistants have been killed, according to Reporters Without Borders. At least 64 journalists have also gone missing because of their work, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists’ database.

“Journalists endure countless attacks on their life, their dignity and the integrity of their work,” said UNESCO. “These abuses affect the ability of the media to impart information to the public, and undermine the foundations of freedom of expression, which is enshrined in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”

The report noted that 91% of those killed were local journalists, a shift from previous years, during which a majority were killed in conflict areas. “This trend reflects the changing nature of violence against journalists, who are increasingly silenced for reporting on issues of corruption, crime and politics.”

It also cited the “continued trend of widespread impunity,” noting that 88% of cases of killing remain unresolved.

Although the vast majority of journalists killed are men (449), killings of women journalists almost doubled relative to the previous five-year period, from 24 in 2009-2013, to 46 in 2014-2018, said the report.

A majority of those killed were in Arab states (149), Latin America and the Caribbean (127) and Asia Pacific (120). The rest were from Africa (51), Western Europe and North America (28), Central and Eastern Europe (20).

The UNESCO report also noted a “growing prevalence of threats and harassment in the online sphere,” which disproportionately target women journalists. It quoted a 2018 survey by the International Women’s Foundation and Troll Busters, which showed that 70% of women journalists have experienced violence and intimidation online. The act “amount to human rights violations,” said UNESCO.

It also cited the emergence of new digital security and privacy threats from both state and non-state actors that are meant to silence and censor journalists. This includes the use of automated bots and troll armies, said the report.

Another major issue, the report said, “has been the rise in hostile, anti-media rhetoric and the discrediting of newsworthy and accurate journalistic reportage as ‘fake news,’ particularly during election periods.”

This Human Rights Day, WACC joins UNESCO, civil society organizations, and media groups in urging governments to protect and ensure the safety of journalists, to end impunity of those who attack journalists, and to guarantee people’s right to information.

Photo above: A makeshift memorial to murdered investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia at the foot of the Great Siege Monument in Valletta, Malta. Galizia’s work often focused on allegations of government corruption, nepotism, patronage, money laundering, links between online gambling and organized crime. Photo: Ethan Doyle White/Wikimedia Commons

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