If all it took was a fine-toothed comb and a spy-glass to get to the bottom of journalists’ murders, would we see an end to them?
Perhaps not, but we could see less, according to the cultural arm of the United Nations. UNESCO has called on the media to continue reporting after a journalist is killed, to maintain pressure on governments to resolve murder investigations.
“The real stakes is what happens next; is there an investigation, is there a court case? Because that is really the full story,” says Guy Berger, President of Press Freedom at UNESCO.
Berger says that over the past 5 years, nearly 600 journalists have been killed. But only 6% of those cases have been brought to court.
“It’s very bad that journalists are being killed [but]worse their killers are getting away with it,” he adds.
A report by the Committee to Protect Journalists this week reveals that governments are falling short in combating impunity.
Elizabeth Witchel, lead author of the report, says the unchecked murder of journalists puts all journalists at risk.
“Everytime we see an act of impunity in these crimes, it sends a message that it’s ok to kill journalists and that this is an easy way to silence your critics.”
The consequences are that killers become emboldened and violence repeats. It’s very difficult in this climate of intimidation to imagine many journalists are brave enough to stay the course, especially when they may be dealing with culprits who enjoy support of politicians, or who might even be government officials themselves.
Furthermore, journalists are now operating in a far more hostile climate than before, where formerly the word “Press” was worn as a protective measure, now it’s seen as a target, as the beheading of US journalist James Foley this summer revealed.
“Journalists are today used as pawns by militant groups in their power struggles with governments,” regrets Alain Le Gougec, President of Reporters Without Borders.
The French NGO on Sunday launched a new website fightimpunity.org to illustrate ten symbolic cases of journalists who have been kidnapped, killed, or imprisoned.
French veteran reporter Florence Aubenas told RFI that journalists also have a part of responsibility.
“We haven’t been clear enough about what we do. We haven’t explained why one day we’re seen with rebel groups, and why perhaps the next we’re seen in a government pick-up truck,” she highlights. “There is confusion about our role, we’re seen as spokespersons, but we’re not, we’re independent, and we need to remind the world of that.”
Aubenas was speaking on Thursday at a meeting of the group Friends of Ghislaine Dupont and Claude Verlon, commemorating the two senior broadcast professionals which were kidnapped and killed outside Kidal in north-eastern Mali on 2 November, 2013.
One year after their death there is a growing desire within the media industry to work together to reduce violence against staff by creating tracking devices, informing journalists of hotspot areas, and identifying fixers who can be trusted and those that can’t.
Within the UN, several resolutions exist addressing impunity and journalists’ safety, notably the 2012 Plan of Action, aimed at building alliances between the media, prosecutors, NGOs to strengthen the political will of governments to clamp down on press violence.
That political will can only come with pressure. Social media has been awash this week with video campaigns and blogging to mark International Day to end impunity, in remembrance of Ghislaine, Claude, and the many other journalists killed for doing their job.
The best tribute to them will be to keep their spirit of doggedness and bravery alive.