Theme:- Violence Against Journalists, the integrity of elections, and the role of public leadership.
By Gbemiga Bamidele
The International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists (IDEI) is a day observed annually on 2 November. The day was chosen in commemoration of Claude Verlon and Chislaire Dupoint, two French journalists from RFI Radio station, who were kidnapped from the town of Kidal in Mali after they had finished interviewing a local political leader on November 2, 2013.
It is in recognition of the far reaching consequences of Impunity, especially of crimes against journalists that the United Nations General Assembly adopted resolution A/RES/68/163 at its 68th session in 2013 which proclaimed 2 November as the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists (IDEI) since 2013, international commemoration of IDEI have provided a unique opportunity to raise awareness and promote a productive discussion among all actors involved in the fight against Impunity for crimes against journalists.
The 2023 theme “Violence Against Journalists, the integrity of elections, and the role of public leadership” seeks to give visibility to the role of a safe and free press in ensuring the integrity of elections and our democratic systems. It reaffirms the obligation of states to adopt effective measures to protect the independent press and strengthen institutional frameworks that combat violence and Impunity, and promote media Independence, sustainability and diversity.
Putting an end to Impunity for crimes against journalists is one of the most important and complex challenges of recent times, and constitutes a fundamental issue in guaranteeing the full exercise of the right to freedom of expression and the open, free and dynamic exchange of ideas and information for all people.
More disturbing is the fact that violence deployed by both state and non state actors against the press has not only been physical but also legal, digital, psychological and symbolic. While murders are the most extreme form of media censorship, journalists are also subjected to countless threats, ranging from physical attacks, imprisonment, online intimidation, threats, kidnappings, surveillance, criminalization and stigmatizing rhetoric by public officials and public figures.
Threats of violence and attacks against journalists produce a chilling effect and self censorship among professionals and society as a whole; which can only be avoided “through decisive action by the state to punish those responsible, as is its obligation under international and domestic law”.
Thus in case of violence against journalists, international human rights law requires that states comply with their positive obligations to prevent, protect and provide justice. Regarding the obligation of prevention, it is important that public authorities adopt a discourse that contributes to preventing violence against the journalists and on the contrary, refrain from issuing stigmatizing statements that increase the risk inherent in their work.
This also implies that they consistently, clearly, publicly and firmly recognize the legitimacy and value of journalistic work, even when the information disseminated may be critical, inconvenient and inopportune for the interest of the government.
Violence against journalists and the continuity of stigmatizing discourse on the part of public officials intensifies particularly during election cycles. States are called upon to recognize and appreciate the role played by the press, since they are independent observers and vehicles for exercise of the social dimension of freedom of expression.
Journalists provide credible, fact based reports and eye witness account about candidates, the electoral process and security issue as well as disseminate and clarify information on emerging issues and public concerns. In this way, they contribute to the electorates having sufficient information and different criteria to make a decision during an election.
Later in this month, November 2023, UNESCO will launch an issue brief focusing on the violence committed against journalists during election periods. The findings reveal that most attacks against journalists during election periods are committed by law enforcement agents. In the last three years, these attacks are counted in hundreds. In the case of women journalists, they are particularly affected by threats and attacks through social networks, which are exacerbated when they cover political issues. In the same UNESCO brief, it is revealed that women constitute 29 per cent of the total number of attacked journalists during election.
This commemoration of IDEI is therefore a call to honour the courage and commitment of journalists killed in the exercise of their profession and to reaffirm the importance and urgency for states and other stakeholders to deploy their maximum efforts to generate an environment free of violence for the press, as well as enablement to carry out their work freely, independently and safely. In the year 2024, the issue of the safety of journalists during elections will raise high on the agenda as 81 countries globally are about to vote in national and regional elections. This includes world’s largest democracies, and all in all, around 2.6 billion people will be eligible to vote.
Gbemiga Bamidele is the convener, Society for Journalism Enhancement Initiatives (S4JEI)