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23 Oct 2012
UPDATE: A statement from the London symposium on the UN Action Plan on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity was delivered on 23 October to the United Nations Education, Science and Culture Organization (UNESCO). Click here to read the full statement.
The International News Safety Institute joined leading media organisations from around the world at a symposium in London to discuss the deteriorating safety situation for journalists.
UNESCO's Director of the Division of Freedom of Expression and Media Development Guy Berger delivered a keynote address at the gathering organised by the BBC College of Journalism and the Centre for Freedom of the Media, University of Sheffield (CFOM) last Thursday.
The symposium was called in response to the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity which was endorsed by the UN Chief Executives Board in April.
Rodney Pinder, Director of The International News Safety Institute, gave a presentation arguing for the protection of journalists.
Journalists and editors from Latin America, Central America, Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Southeast Asia also provided testimonies detailing how they and their colleagues deal with threats, aggression, murder, kidnap, torture and impunity.
Russian journalist Galina Sidorova from the International Press Institute described how one of her colleagues' fingers were crushed after probing too far into an investigation. As a result, he can no longer work as a journalist.
“What I like about the UN plan is the name, 'Plan of Action',” she said.
“I'm all for very concrete proposals. Although we [journalists] all compete in a way, there are cases where we should be united. This is surely one of them.”
But there was also scepticism in the room.
“If a coked-up twelve year old with a Kalashnikov steps out from behind a bush and points it at me, I can’t wave the Declaration of Human Rights at him and say ‘you can’t do that, I’m a journalist,’” said Al Jazeera English's producer Dairmuid Jeffreys.
Berger assured the audience that the report will focus on concrete action rather than good intentions.
“It would be missing a trick if media people responded to the UN plan by being cynical and writing off this new initiative as empty rhetoric. To be cynical is to know the answers in advance, which of course is not exactly best practice in journalism. To be sceptical, however, is to ask questions,” said Berger.
“Believe me, it’s not easy to take the various supertankers of the UN and get them involved, and link them up with all the other actors in the business of securing the safety of journalists, but it is happening.”
The UN plan aims to create a free and safe environment for journalists and media workers in both conflict and non-conflict situations by bringing together UN mechanisms, national authorities, civil society and media professionals.
An Inter-Agency meeting will take place on 22-23 November in Vienna in order to formulate concrete implementation strategies based on the plan.
"INSI welcomes the UN efforts to increase the safety of journalists and is involved in this process as a safety advisor,” said Pinder.
"However it should be noted that the news industry, from experience, is widely sceptical about the effectiveness of UN action in countries where journalists are under attack from militaries, paramilitaries, terrorists, major criminals and corrupt officials and business interests.
"The ultimate proof of this excellent effort will lie in real action on the ground - the ability of the United Nations to persuade governments and security forces to do their duty and protect their countries' journalists, who are vital to the development and survival of free societies everywhere," he added.
• To read more about the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity click here
• To read Guy Berger's speech click here
PHOTO: Top news organisation and NGO representatives attended the conference, and approved a UN draft plan of action (CFOM)