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Impunity for Crime against Journalists


Without journalists there is no journalism, without journalism, there is no democracy. Now more than ever, it is time to stand up to protect journalists.

By Sanjenbam Jugeshwor Singh

According to the safety of Journalists and the Danger of Impunity, a report by the Director-General of UNESCO, only 13% of cases globally involving crime against journalists were reported resolved in comparison to 12% in 2019 and 11% in 2018. This biennial report also said that in 2018-19, a total of 156 killings of journalists were recorded worldwide and over the past decades, a journalist was killed – on average-every four days. Killings of 99 journalists were recorded in 2018, and 57 in 2019, the lowest death toll in the last ten years. As of the end of September, 39 journalists lost their lives in 2020, the report added.

Journalism remains a dangerous profession: The threat faced by journalists is many and wide-ranging. While causalities related to countries experiencing armed conflict have declined, fatal attacks against journalists covering stories related to corruption, human right violation, environmental crimes, child, women& drug trafficking and political wrongdoing have risen as reported by UNESCO. The report also noted that gender factors play a role in violence against journalists: in 2018-19, men continue to represent the majority of the victims of fatal attacks against journalists, 91% of the victims in 2019 and 93% in 2018. The higher number of male victims may be explained by the fact that there are fewer female journalists working in dangerous areas and at least in some regions, fewer who are assigned to cover sensitive topics such as political corruptions or organized crime. The gap can be partly explained by the existence of prevailing stereotypes which sometimes prevent women journalists from being send on assignment in high-risk areas or covering certain beats, said UNESCO. While, there are significantly fewer journalists among the victims of fatal attacks, they are particularly targeted by offline and online gender- based attacks putting their safety at risk-these attacks can range from harassment, physical and sexual assault, trolling and doxxing- obtaining and publishing private and identifiable information. Like previous years, television journalists constitute the largest group among the victims according to the report. Over 2018 and 2019, TV journalists constitute 30% of the journalists killed with 47 fatalities followed by radio with 24% and print media with21% of the killings. Furthermore, as with previous years, majority of victims were local journalists, covering local stories with 95 local journalists killed in 2018 and 56 lost their lives in 2019, representing 96% of the fatalities for the years respectively.

Democracies depend on the ability of journalists to speak truth, investigate abuses, contribute to and strengthen public debate and provides people with information on the world around them. Impunity for abuses , which seek to silence journalists  is a global threat to freedom of expression and open societies and one that persist years on year with little improvement. According to UNESCO, 82 journalists and media workers have been killed globally since 2018 till date. Most of these cases will see little justice. Of the 930 killings recorded between 2012 and 2016, only 10% have been resolved and seen genuine justice. Attacks on journalists take many forms. Journalists face decades of imprisonment, mistreatment at the hands of police, threats and harassment from state or private actors, sexual violence, physical attacks and murder for exposing abuses, voicing dissent and reporting on protest and political processes. The persistent failure to take action against those responsible and investigate many of these crimes is a tacit acceptance by governments of crime against freedom of expression.

Impunity means “exemption from punishment or freedom from the injurious consequences of an action’’. It can apply to a number of human rights violations leaving victims without justice and creating an environment that enable abuse. Impunity for crime against journalists means a failure by states to bring redress for abuse against journalists including harassment, threats, attacks, arbitrary detention and murder. This can be through: failing to undertake independent speedy and effective investigation to threats, attacks or murder, this include flawed fact-finding, failure to collect evidences, excessively slow and opaque investigation process, failure to properly investigate motive and the use of scapegoats and failing to identify mastermind behind the attack; failing to reform police practices which enabling and encourage mistreatment of journalists; failing to reform or abolish laws which target journalists reporting on certain issues or expressing criticism. Failure of government to investigate attacks or bring redress is often motivated by self-interest.  Where their own agents are responsible for violations or investigations would expose government failure, there are clear benefits for state actor to silence and discredit journalists and enable aggressors. Elsewhere flawed judicial systems, a lack of political will, corrupt law enforcement and fear of reprisal contribute to impunity. International and standard requires states to prevent, prohibit and address crime against journalists. The obligation of the states to protect press freedom and journalists’ safety has been affirmed in UN Human Rights Council Resolution 33/2 which sets out in detail the actions, states should take to tackle impunity and safeguard journalists. However, impunity remains one of the most serious threats to free expression and journalists’ safety.  Impunity creates a cycle which steadily erodes freedom of expression. Where journalist can be attacked and silenced with impunity, it emboldens other perpetrators to commit similar attacks and intimidates journalists into silence.

If we don’t protect journalists, our ability to remain informed and make evidence-based decision is severely hampered. And when they cannot safely do their jobs, we lose an important defense against the pandemic of misinformation and disinformation that has spread online. As the Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted new perils for journalists and media workers, a free press that can play its essential role in peace, justice, sustainable development and human rights is the need of the hour. Without journalists there is no journalism, without journalism, there is no democracy. Now more than ever, it is time to stand up to protect journalists.

(Sanjenbam Jugeshwor Singh is Asst. Prof. JCRE Global College, Babupara, Imphal. He can be reached at [email protected])

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