On November 2nd the world celebrated the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists. This day was established at the 68th session of the United Nations General Assembly in 2013 in memory of two journalists killed in Mali.
There had been discussions about this for years, and many were convinced of the need for this special day to be established. I remember some of those meetings well: the committee to protect journalists, the meeting at UNESCO headquarters and the IFJ world congress in Moscow.
Resolution #68/163 of the UN General Assembly calls upon state parties to take particular measures in the fight against impunity, to ensure investigations of all cases of violence, and at the same time provide legal and other appropriate assistance to the victims. The document strongly urges the state to hold accountable those responsible for crimes against journalists, and to contribute to the independent work of the media.
Since that time, November 2nd has served as a reminder that crimes against freedom of speech are not subject to any statute of limitation and that it is not the sole responsibility of the professional community to end those crimes - it is also that of society as a whole. This is the seventh time this date was celebrated.
Over the past ten years 1,010 journalists have been killed. In 9 out of 10 cases the perpetrators have not been brought to justice. The IFJ and other organizations confirm that in recent years cases of violence against media workers have steadily increased, becoming more sophisticated and surfacing virtually everywhere in the world.
“Impunity results in a higher number of homicides. It is symptomatic of the escalation of conflicts and the collapse of the judicial system”, according to the UN documents. UNESCO “expresses concern about the fact that impunity damages entire societies, covering for serious violations of human rights, corruption and crime”.
In response to the call, specific documents were adopted and legislation was expanded in many countries. EU member states adopted a special document on the Safety of Journalists, ensuring that journalists had a safe environment to perform their work in the EU.
These measures, however, have proved to be insufficient. Every week the International Federation of Journalists reports acts of violence against media workers in various regions across the globe. Killings take place not only in conflict zones but also in well-off countries. All sorts of pressure, fines and prosecution, cyberbullying, assaults and direct violence have now become regular practice.
In mid-October the Council of Europe published a report on the persecution and pressurization of media workers. This report highlights many problems concerning the free flow of information and the growth of self-censorship.
In the opinion of the European Federation of Journalists, a bulky publication titled “A Mission to Inform: Journalists at Risk Speak Out” is a unique resource for those who value freedom of speech and care for the future of the profession. It also contains useful records for governments and politicians. The IFJ looks forward to helping the authorities to better understand the depth of the issues in order to take the necessary action, which hopefully will happen.
The International Day to End Impunity provides an opportunity to strengthen solidarity in the professional community and in society as a whole. Without solidarity, well-meaning documents and laws are mere words on paper. Journalists from around the world should get to know each other better. It is very important to know the names of those who gave their lives for our right to know the truth, in all countries and continents. It is also important to know those who are committed to awakening society and telling the truth about what is going on, and to have access to their records, regardless of the language they were originally written in.
We live in an enormous and diverse world, and, sadly, despite rapid technological progress and the digital revolution, we are not growing closer to one another. On the contrary, those willing to bend journalism to serve their interests, to turn journalists into soldiers in the information war, do everything they can to pull us apart. Society does not always understand why journalists who work for the public good are persecuted and why they need protection.
Emphasizing the value of the honest and demanding work of journalism is the most important task, both for representatives of the profession, and for society as a whole. This is the message conveyed in the foreword to the first annual compilation of the shortlisted entries of the Fetisov Journalism Awards, titled “Journalism that Illuminates the World” written by Aidan White, the patriarch of the international journalistic movement, and editor of the book.
Mr. White is strongly convinced that journalism is a valuable public service. The book contains reports written by authors from all around the world. They depict human drama and sophisticated corruption schemes, crimes and tragedies. Most of them present new storylines and expand our knowledge of the world. The reports highlight the world’s diversity and complexity of challenges.
Importantly, some of the publications have opened the way to resolving at least some of the problems. Some authors were persecuted in their home countries and abroad. This is what the judges revealed at the award ceremony, calling for human rights organizations to support journalists’ participation in the project, and attention from international organizations made it possible for some journalists to get real help in difficult situations. Most significantly of all, the book unmasked individuals and revealed the current level of development in every continent of the world.
Currently the judges are completing an analysis of the entries submitted for this year’s award. According to them, not only has the number of entries increased this year but also a wider range of countries have participated. Many stories have been the result of thorough and in-depth investigations. A greater number of collective works were received this time. Teams of reporters, lawyers, scientists, experts on ecology, disarmament, etc. collaborated on complex cases. World-renowned media, new independent platforms, experienced and young journalists alike, all became participants in the Fetisov Journalism Awards. Doubtless the new annual compilation will provide the reader with many new narratives and character studies.
“Today more than ever we need bold and honest journalism”, said philanthropist and FJA founder Gleb Fetisov at the previous award ceremony. “Journalism helps society comprehend itself. Journalists make the world a better place.” It is uncommon to hear such words from a businessman.
This idealism may have roots in the background of the influential film producer. Some time ago, he entered politics and as a result a criminal case was launched against him. The investigation was prolonged, with a total disregard for legal principles. Criminal proceedings have only recently been fully discontinued. The decision of the philanthropist to establish an independent journalism award is a meaningful contribution to supporting the profession, a fact repeatedly reiterated by the project judges. Incidentally, one of Fetisov’s recent ideas - to develop a protective mechanism, a sort of refuge for persecuted journalists - is also worthy of consideration.
The Day to End Impunity is a day when the whole of society has a chance to unite and stand together to defend free speech and free journalism. Such journalistic solidarity from different countries and cultures, as well as an alliance of journalists with the public, is the best protection against and way to end impunity.
Honest and bold journalism is alive and well. It remains the main and only weapon against lies, propaganda, distortions and fake news. It remains alive due to the outstanding journalists who carry out their work around the world, who regard public service as their life mission.
They are many. We know that. They are everywhere, be it in Africa, Asia, Europe or America. They live and work in poor and wealthy countries alike. They are united in a common cause. They seek the truth and they write about what they see and hear, even when that truth is thoroughly concealed. They call for restoration of justice and observation of the law. They call for peace, respect and compassion, which they practise at all times. They are the ones who make this world a better place.
We look forward to finding out the names of the FJA winners. We look ahead to new discoveries.
Co-Chair of the FJA Steering Committee