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Africa

Impunity for crimes against journalists 'takes society back to the dark ages'

media "In nine out of ten cases those responsible for journalists' killings are never punished" Photo: Unesco/Cyril Ndegeya

Tuesday marks the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists, a day which aims to draw attention to the importance of investigating and prosecuting the killing of journalists. The awareness day was established three years ago and coincides with the anniversary of the killing of RFI’s Claude Verlon and Ghislaine Dupont who were murdered in Mali on 2 November 2013.

“Journalists are people who do a public service, if there’s not justice for journalists, one will find that more and more journalists are intimidated, there’s self-censorship, we don’t get the news we need as the public,” said Guy Berger, director for freedom of expression and media development, Unesco (UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation).

The killing of journalists rarely results in the prosecution of their killers and in nine out of ten cases those responsible go unpunished, according to Unesco, which sends a message to society as a whole and restricts peoples’ fundamental rights.

Q&A Guy Berger

“It sends the signal that your freedom of expression is not going to be protected, you as a person, because you can see that journalists are killed and their killers get away scot-free,” Berger told RFI.

Besides the threat against individual journalists, the potential risk can permeate through entire newsrooms. “It’s something that hangs over journalists all the time, not only over them, but over their colleagues as well,” said Berger. There have been some 827 killings of journalists over the course of ten years, according to Unesco’s 2016 report.

The statistics indicate that local journalists are at higher risk than foreign correspondents and almost 90 per cent were local journalists, according to Unesco. “This is because they are dealing with local stories and they are offending somebody, perhaps a warlord, somebody who’s involved in criminal dealings, somebody who has something to hide,” said Berger.

The International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists helps to underline the importance of the “rule of law, a judicial process and some resolution of the cases of killed journalists,” said the Unesco freedom of expression expert.

“The importance is to build a culture of respect for the safety of journalists, so that people know that when a journalist is in a conflict situation they should not harm that journalist, instead they should help that journalist, because the journalist is there to tell the story,” Berger added.

 
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