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23 Nov 2012
By Hannah Storm
Today, November 23rd, marks the International Day to End Impunity. It was a word with which I wasn't familiar before joining the International News Safety Institute, but today it is one of the biggest threats to journalism safety. We hear a lot about the famous international journalists who are killed or die doing their jobs. But for each one of them, there are many more journalists whose deaths go largely unrecorded.
Most of them are not killed on the frontlines of conflicts, but die because they dare to shine a light into the darkest corners of their societies, or because they refuse to keep quiet when threatened by criminal gangs, corrupt officials or nefarious business people.
In most cases, their killers get off scot free. INSI estimates that in 90 percent of cases, those responsible for these crimes are not brought to justice. In countries where there is a weak rule of law, where corruption is rife, investigations may start but they are rarely finished, and prosecutions are even less likely.
And while impunity remains and national authorities fail to punish those responsible for the killing of our colleagues, it sends a signal to those intent on silencing their critics that the murder of journalists is acceptable.
And this is not acceptable.
The reason that today was named as International Day to End Impunity is that it marks the date in 2009 that 32 media workers were killed in an ambush in Maguindanano in the Philippines.
Three years after the event, the trial drags on and impunity reigns. The killing of journalists continues in the Philippines, and will do so as long as there is impunity.
Elsewhere in the world, the picture is increasingly bleak. According to INSI records at least 21 journalists as having been killed in Syria since the start of the year, making it the most deadly country for journalists in 2012. Some of those were killed as a direct result of the fighting in Syria, others were killed as an indirect result: silenced by those determined that their voices should not be heard in a country with no history of a free press and where the exponential increase in numbers of people calling themselves citizen journalists has shown just how many feel compelled to fight for truth through their words, blogs and reports.
It is against this backdrop, that I attended a meeting this week at the UN in Vienna, looking at how the different agencies of the United Nations could better work together with the support of UN member states and non-governmental organisations to improve the safety of journalists and seek to end impunity.
Under this umbrella plan, INSI has been tasked by UNESCO to pull together a publication outlining what measures are being taken to tackle the scourge of insecurity facing journalists: what training and advice is available, what news rooms are providing their employees, what measures support groups and national governments have in place to protect journalists and help them recognise and mitigate the risks they face, and what journalists are doing themselves in this area.
One of the key issues we will be looking at within this study is what is being done and what is not being done to ensure the killers of our colleagues and friends are brought to justice.
Last year more than 400 members of the global broadcast news media signed up to a resolution at the NewsXchange conference pledging their support to reporting and, where possible helping investigate such incidents.This must happen. We trust the news media will work with INSI to do this and help feed into a process that we really hope does make a difference to the lives of our colleagues.
Yesterday, I told the UN meeting that I did not want to be addressing them next year, lamenting the loss of some 120 members of the news media in the first 11 months of 2013. For, this week's UN meeting could not have happened at a more important time.
We are heading for one of the darkest years on record in terms of the safety of journalists, with that number of casualties this year among our colleagues. For each one of them, countless more have been threatened, assaulted or forced to flee their countries. I have seen this week that there is momentum to change this. We do not have the time or luxury to lose that momentum.
Hannah Storm is Director of the International News Safety Institute