Module 10: Violence Against Journalists
Violence against journalists can arise from a complex mix of factors, such as a culture of impunity for such crimes, a climate of insecurity in a country, insufficient respect for the independence of the press or an ongoing violent conflict. Responding effectively to violence against journalists therefore requires a comprehensive, tailored State response. Countries with lower levels of violence against journalists should undertake some initiatives, such as monitoring attacks. However, countries with high levels of violence should consider a comprehensive plan or response, including developing a national specialised safety mechanism.
National specialised safety mechanisms are protection initiatives specifically designed normally to enhance protection of journalists or the effectiveness of investigation or protection systems. The most well-known example of such a mechanism is Colombia’s protection programme, which establishes a National Unit for Protection and offers physical protection for threatened journalists, potentially even including bodyguards and armoured cars.(1) While these kind of physical protection actions are often important, strong national safety mechanisms should ideally be comprehensive and consider a range of preventative, protective and investigative measures. For guidance on establishing a safety mechanism, see Supporting Freedom of Expression: A Practical Guide to Developing Specialised Safety Mechanisms.(2)
At the international level, the United Nations has developed a Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity.(3) The Plan of Action includes five core proposed actions for the UN: 1) strengthening UN mechanisms; 2) cooperating with Member States; 3) partnering with other organisations and institutions; 4) raising awareness; and 5) fostering safety initiatives. While most of the identified actions are focused at the United Nations level, the Plan of Action has created key infrastructure within the UN system which can support national level efforts to improve journalist safety. Similar plans of action can also be developed at the national level, either as a governmental effort or a civil society led initiative (see an example of the latter below).
UNESCO is the lead agency for coordinating implementation of the UN Plan of Action. As part of this work, UNESCO has developed a number of resources which are helpful at the national level combatting violence against journalists. Some examples include a set of Journalists’ Safety Indicators(4) for both the international and national level, and (with the International Association of Prosecutors) Guidelines for Prosecutors on Cases of Crimes against Journalists.(5)
Philippines: Developing a National Plan of Action
The Philippines has one of the worst records in the world in terms of journalist safety, with 112 journalist deaths recorded by UNESCO since tracking started in 1993.(6) In response, in 2019 a coalition of civil society groups and media organisations launched the Philippine Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists. The Plan was developed following extensive multi-stakeholder consultations with media, government, civil society and other actors at both the national and local levels.
The Plan sets out a five-year implementation strategy, led again by a multi-stakeholder coalition developed out of the consultation process. Key action points proposed in the Plan include:
- Work to create an independent Press Council.
- Work to create journalist workers’ associations.
- A range of actions related to improving occupational, health and safety standards and laws for media workers.
- Institutionalise regular dialogues between state security forces and the media.
- Improve capacities for reporting on and responding to threats against journalists.
- Broaden journalist safety training.
- Develop a gender sensitivity programme for journalists.
- Set up systems for documenting attacks on female journalists.
- Develop protection programmes for university campus journalists.
- Review and reform criminal laws which endanger freedom of expression.
- Create a legal support mechanism for journalists.
- Develop knowledge products on relevant cultural and traditional practices.
- Increase public awareness about the role of the media.
- Strengthen the ability of teachers to teach about journalist safety in schools.
- Undertake a study to identify effective safety practices.
The Philippines has also had some government-led safety initiatives over the years, but this initiative is a good example of the range of actions a civil-society led coalition can undertake, even in the absence of clear government leadership.