Tuesday, April 17, 2012

UN plan to protect journalists faces opposition

Several countries chose not to endorse the UN’s Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity at UNESCO’s 28th biennial session held in Paris last month. The International Programme for the Development of Communication Council’s (IPDC) meeting was supposed to address the growing concern over the issue, but became a tense exchange on the sovereign rights for certain countries. The plan had been in the drafting stage for over two years and will now face further delays given the opposition. The plan was passed onto UN’s Executive Board earlier this month, where it was eventually endorsed but may face difficulties in its implementation.

Elements of the plan were designed to strengthen the work of UN bodies such as the Special Rapporteurs on Freedom of Expression, Extrajudicial Killings and Violence Against Women, and various developments agencies to enact detailed programmes in countries to tackle the issues. The plan also encouraged to open dialogue on broadening Resolution 1738 to include the protection of journalists in non-conflict situations and assisting member states in drawing up national legislation in prosecuting killers. However, the plan was blocked by Brazil, Venezuela, India, Pakistan and Cuba.

The BBC’s College of Journalism reported that India “questioned the authority of UNESCO to lead the process and cast doubt on the terms of some of UNESCO’s public statements condemning journalists’ killings”. Likewise, Pakistan objected to the organisation’s failure to take into account its fight against terrorism in their ‘attempts to audit states’ judicial responses’ to the deaths of journalists. Mexico also protested against the criticism it received on the growing number of journalist deaths, stating that they were mostly the result of the gang wars.

It is not surprising to see why such countries opposed the plan. They all publicly support freedom of expression and safety of journalists but the reality is often starkly different. As the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and the Knight Centre for Journalism in Americas noted, these are the countries which have some of the worst records in ensuring safety of journalists and tackling the dangers of impunity. Next Century Foundation blogged last month that Pakistan has been the most dangerous place for journalists in the last two years, ahead of war zones such as Afghanistan, Libya and Iraq.

However, the cries of sovereign rights ring hollow in such instances. Freedom of press and expression are vital to an accountable, democratic society. And protecting the lives of journalists and facing the dangers of impunity are vital in this end.

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