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7 Dec 2012
By Rodney Pinder
One thousand two hundred and seventy-three – that’s the number of journalists and support staff who have died trying to cover the story since we set up INSI in 2003.
That’s the number that was foremost in mind when I retired last month after a decade as Director, and one of the founders, of the International News Safety Institute.
One thousand two hundred and seventy-three friends and colleagues, mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, daughters and sons who all had one thing in common: they had set out bravely to tell their citizens what was really going on in their countries, or to inform the world about events of global importance abroad.
One thousand two hundred and seventy-three who died in war or because some criminal or politician or businessman -- or even their own government that was supposed to protect them -- didn’t like what they were reporting – hated the light of truth falling on the darkest recesses of their misdeeds.
At a time when my own country, Britain, one of the world’s oldest established democracies, is considering shackling the press because of journalists who themselves committed crimes against their fellow citizens, it is salutary to remember this shocking number – the toll of brave women and men who voluntarily put their lives on the line to bring us the news without which we could not be free.
And to remember that a minority were killed covering wars and conflict. The great majority died doing their daily job in their own land in peacetime, trying to expose crime and corruption. This is the intolerable price of much of our news.
INSI was created by a unique coalition of news organisations, journalist support groups and individuals out of concern at the rising casualty toll. We needed a new body solely devoted to safety and to helping journalists survive the story.
Ten years on, the casualties mount, and I ask myself what have we actually achieved?
One thousand two hundred and seventy-three – you’d think not much.
But I am convinced that had INSI not been working effectively the death toll would have been even higher. This is hard to prove, of course, but some of our achievements are unarguable and have been widely welcomed in the news business and the international community.
First of all, we have put safety firmly on the global news agenda. It is discussed, debated and enacted in newsrooms and international forums as never before.
Much of the impetus for this sea change came from our unique report Killing The Messenger which, for the first time, examined journalist casualties around the globe and the circumstances of their deaths.
We then worked with our friends in the International Federation of Journalists and the European Broadcasting Union plus a few friendly governments to get Resolution 1738 on journalist safety and an end to impunity for killers passed by the UN Security Council in 2006.
This was a major stand against attacks on media workers by the world’s top political body. Journalist safety was now on the top table.
Since then UN agencies, organised by UNESCO, have got together behind a sustained drive on journalist safety and impunity. As a key part of this plan INSI has been tasked with collating 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.
Major news organisations have formed up behind INSI’s drive for greater safety, helping us gather critical information and provide timely advice and guidance to colleagues in or planning to enter danger zones.
INSI now hosts a safety forum where more than 70 news executives can come together at times of crisis and in real-time exchange critical information affecting their teams in the field covering conflicts and natural and man-made disasters.
We persuaded the British military to put journalist safety in its “Green Book” governing media-military relations in wartime. The British pledged their forces would never knowingly attack an individual journalist.
We put the safety of women journalists on the global agenda with our groundbreaking book , 'No Woman’s Land'.
And we raised money from donors to enable us to provide safety and hostile environment training free of charge to more than 2,000 journalists in 29 countries. We know safety training and risk assessment saves lives, so the 2,000 indisputably are safer now than they were.
Thousands more remain at high risk, in daily danger of wounding or death, and that reminds me again of the downside.
This year has seen 122 deaths so far, elevating 2012 to the ranks of the deadliest half dozen years of in the past decade.
Some countries appear on the death lists with a dreadful consistency.
The bloodiest countries this year are Syria, Somalia, Nigeria, Mexico and Brazil. Killing The Messenger listed Somalia, Nigeria, Mexico and Brazil in the top 20 deadliest countries over the decade 1996-2006.
Other nations with journalist deaths on their hands then were in the same corner last year: Russia, Pakistan, Philippines, India, and Russia. War-racked Iraq has been bad consistently over the past 10 years; for Iraq today read Syria where journalists are targeted indiscriminately by a regime trying to conceal its extreme brutality.
The rate of impunity for the killers of journalists has remained roughly the same over the decade with 9 out of 10 getting away with it. This of course encourages more of the same.
It is surely no coincidence that Iraq, Somalia, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Colombia, Nepal, Afghanistan, Mexico, Russia, Pakistan, Brazil and India are ranked in the top 12 of the CPJ’s Impunity Index as well as in the top 20 of INSI’s most murderous nations.
Although more news organisations -- especially the global giants that support INSI so strongly – take journalist safety safely much more seriously now than they did a decade ago, there are too many others who do not observe their duty of care to their staff and freelancers.
This is a source of continuing concern. How can we demand better care from armies, police, governments, international bodies and others when so many of our own appear to not give a damn?
That said, States remain most responsible for the news media death toll.
Some States appear helpless to curb the criminals who kill, others appear not to care about journalist casualties, still others pay lip service to journalist safety, supporting measures in public and lashing out when it suits them.
Even some democracies for whom press freedom is life giving, can direct deadly fire against journalists “on the other side” of a conflict.
More militaries need to follow the lead of the British and make sure their soldiers do not target journalists for a bullet or a beating. They need to be reminded strongly that the deliberate killing of a civilian is a war crime.
UN agency efforts to protect journalists are most welcome, but they will be of limited effect unless member States observe the rules enshrining freedom of information as a human right and end the impunity that shields journalist killers.
States must prosecute to the fullest extent of their laws those who kill or injure or kidnap journalists.
The highest duty of any State is to protect the lives and welfare of all of its citizens.
The one thousand two hundred and seventy-three were citizens too!
Rodney Pinder is one of the founders of the International News Safety Institute
Photo: Protesters shout slogans during a rally at Quezon city, the Philippines, in 2006, to protest spate of killings of left-wing activists and journalists in the country. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)