Problem of impunity
THERE is no doubt that for journalists, this is one of the most dangerous countries in the world. Journalists are killed or harassed because of their work or in the line of duty partly because the state has consistently refused to track down the killers or intimidators. Here, journalists are sandwiched between a rock and a hard place: at one end is a shadowy establishment that tries to keep certain information cloaked, and at the other, a war with elements that consider no means too foul to achieve their end. Yet the harassment of journalists and their killing with impunity is a global problem.
The Committee to Protect Journalists estimates that some 49 journalists have been killed around the world so far this year, while Reporters Without Borders’ ‘Press Freedom Barometer’ points out that over 270 people, including journalists and ‘netizens’, have been put in prison during these 10 months. In this tug-of-war between those who seek to expose the truth and those who try to contain it, what is at stake is the citizens’ right to know.
It was in defence of this right that the world media community expressed dismay at the ineffectiveness of UN efforts to ensure the safety of newsmen — the 2006 UNSC Resolution 1738, among other matters, reminded all parties in situations of armed conflict to respect the professional independence of media personnel. At a symposium on ‘Media Responses to Matters of Life and Death’ that took place in London last week, ahead of the second UN Inter-Agency meeting on ‘the safety of journalists and the issue of impunity’ that is to be held in Vienna next month, representatives of 40 media organisations from around the world called upon the UN to persuade member states to create a safer environment for journalists.
The symposium has drafted a set of proposals in this regard. This needs to be given due attention. Too many governments, among them the Pakistani government, are guilty of either perpetrating violence against media personnel or standing by as such violence occurs. If the world is concerned about the freedom of speech, here is where it begins.