UN Secretary General Guterres calls for enhanced safety for journalists

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres (PHOTO: FILE)
The United Nations (UN) has condemned attacks on journalists and media workers, imploring upon States, including Kenya to implement the more effective applicable legal framework for the protection.

The call is informed by reports on increased violence, threats and attacks against journalists.

The global body warns that to ensure accountability, States should legally deal with perpetrators while victims and their families access appropriate remedies.

Despite the approval for implementation of the United Nations Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity in 2017, the incidents of attacks and killings are reported to continue being on the rise.

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The United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural organisation (UNESCO) observatory data since 1993, where 1356 journalists have been killed globally in line of duty to-date.

In Kenya, for instance, there are still unresolved murders.

The killings of John Kituyi who was the editor and owner of the, an independent regional publication, published in Eldoret, Uasin Gishu county in 2015 and Francis Nyaruri who was a correspondent for weekly citizen newspaper in 2009.

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The Reporters without borders have also listed the country as a problematic state in its 2019 annual safety and security index.

The report by UN Secretary-General (SG) Antonio Guterres, tabled ahead of the official opening of the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in New York, United States, next week, shows that globally in recent years, there has been a rise in the scale and number of attacks against the physical safety of journalists and media workers.

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The worrying trend, in turn, affects journalists’ ability to exercise freedom of expression, coupled with threats of prosecution, arrest, imprisonment, denial of journalistic access and failure to investigate and prosecute crimes against them.

Mr Guterres in reference to UNESCO’s Director-General Audrey Azoulay recent report regretted to note that legal impunity for perpetrators is still the norm for most killings of journalists, with less than one in ten cases leading to a conviction.

“The report shows between January 2017 and June 2019, 207 journalists were killed, of whom 117 were in countries not currently experiencing armed conflict,” noted the Secretary-General.

He went on, “Many of those journalists were reporting on organized crime, local politics and corruption, and many had received threats prior to the attacks on them.”

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The sorry state of security of journalists is not any different in Kenya, during the period under review, between 2013 to date, a total of 115 cases of attacks against journalist have been reported, according to Media Council of Kenya (MCK) report early this year.

The regulator noted that 2019 has the highest number with over 20 attacks followed by 2016 and 2017 which had 20 cases each, followed by 2018 with 18.

“This is an issue of concern given that the cases of violations in the first half of 2019 alone, has overtaken the number of cases recorded in 2016 and 2017 when the political temperatures preceding the general election were at an all-time high,” the council stated in its report.

ICT Cabinet Secretary (CS) Joe Mucheru recently emphasized on the safety of journalists, saying it is the primary responsibility of the State and the media as key and important partner in building an inclusive society is undisputed.

Guterres also took issue with the evolving media landscape.

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“New forms of media and communication have emerged, and new technologies are fuelling the rapid spread of targeted disinformation and smear campaigns,” he faulted.

He said this has contributed to making the issue of safety and free media increasingly complex but also contributed to an erosion in the public trust in journalism.

“Journalists are also facing more intimidation through misuse of laws as well as efforts and/or measures taken by those in public leadership positions to discredit their work,” he stated.

He continued, “The proportion of women among fatalities has also risen, as they are facing increased gender-specific attacks, such as sexual harassment (including online), sexual violence and threats of violence.”

He urged States to strongly encourage continued development of national safety mechanisms, including developing national action plans on the safety of journalists.

He said this should be integrated into national sustainable development strategies under the 2030 Agenda.

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