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Dont shoot the messenger
By Online Editor
01/07/2011, Fiji

The number of unsolved murders of journalists continues unabated around the world and according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) - the number from 13 countries alone for the last decade sits at 251.

Various seminars, workshops, campaigns, protests, meetings have been held in the past and will continue to happen in the future to address this global phenomenon.

This is not only an attack against a noble profession but it is against the TRUTH. The truth does really hurt.

To become a journalist in certain parts of the world is suicidal and in some it’s a matter of bread and butter.

Last month’s general meeting of the International Freedom of eXpression (IFEX) network in Beirut, Lebanon touched on the escalating attacks on journalists and also the push for journalists to shy away from their ethical standards.

24 hours before the IFEX GM and Strategy conference began in Beirut on May 30, thousands of miles away an experienced Pakistani journalist was kidnapped in the capital Islamabad.

News of his disappearance quickly filtered through the corridors of the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Beirut, venue for the IFEX GM.

This IFEX meeting had several sessions dedicated to highlighting the countless murders of journalists the world over.

One specific session titled ‘Stopping the Killers before They Strike: Exploring Preemptive Measures to End Journalists’ Murders’ was set for Thursday morning June 2.

News of Syed Saleem Shahzad’s death reached the IFEX meeting on June 1st.

It’s reported that Shahzad disappeared on the evening of May 29 in Islamabad. He reportedly left his home around 5.30pm local time that evening to take part in a TV show scheduled for 6pm, but at 5.42pm his cell phone was switched off and he failed to arrive at the television bureau. A complaint was lodged with the police the following morning. On May 31 it was reported that his car had been found with an unidentified body.

Later the same day, his family confirmed that he was dead.

In Beirut, this tragic news fueled the resolve and calls for an International Day to End Impunity.    

Impunity is defined as exemption from punishment or loss or escape from fines, simply put people were getting away with murder.

What IFEX and its members are calling for is an end to the senseless murders of journalists and bringing the murderers to justice.

Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) launched its fourth annual Impunity Index in Beirut titled ‘Getting Away with Murder. The index spotlights 13 countries where journalists are slain and killers go free.

According to CPJ, Russia and Mexico, two of the world’s most murderous countries for the press, are heading in different directions in combating deadly anti-press violence. The index noted that there were some improvements in Russia as journalist murders ebbed and prosecutors obtained two high-profile convictions. But deadly anti-press violence continued to climb in Mexico, where authorities appear powerless in brining killers to justice.

Columbia continued a year-long pattern of improvement, CPJ’s index found, while conditions in Bangladesh reflected a slight upturn. But the countries at the top of the index- Iraq, Somalia and the Philippines showed either no improvement or even worsening records.

Iraq, with an impunity rating three times worse than that of any other nations, is ranked first for the fourth straight year.

CPJ’s Executive Director Joel Simon says “the findings of the 2011 Impunity Index lay bare the stark choices that governments face: Either address the issue of violence against journalists head –on or see murders continue and self-censorship spread.”

He said impunity is a key indicator in assessing levels of press freedom and free expression in nations worldwide.

For the latest index, CPJ examined journalist murders that occurred between January 1, 2001 through to December 31, 2010, and that remain unsolved. Only the 13 nations with five or more unsolved cases are included on the index. Cases are considered unsolved when no convictions have been obtained.

CPJ delegations have in the past year met heads of state in the Philippines, Mexico and Pakistan and senior law enforcement officials in Russia.

Among other findings in the Impunity Index: local journalists are the victims in the vast majority of unsolved cases worldwide. Only about 6 percent of unsolved cases on the index involve international journalists slain while working abroad.

Here’s the 13 countries highlighted by CPJ where journalists are murdered on a recurring basis and governments are unable or unwilling to prosecute the killers.

1.    IRAQ
7.    NEPAL
8.    MEXICO
9.    RUSSIA
12.    BRAZIL
13.    INDIA

CPJ’s Impunity Index calculates the number of unsolved journalist murders as a percentage of each country’s population.

An IFEX team was tasked to conduct a research project examining the methodology and criteria used by the members in compiling the number journalists killed.

The team found that methodology used by the organisations who keep tallies on the number of journalists killed around the world differ from one to another. These organisations are CPJ, International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), International Press Institute (IPI), Reporters Without Borders (RSF), World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA) and Writers in Prison Committee, PEN International (WIPC).

The Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) recorded 121 cases of killing of Filipino/media workers since 1986.

CMFR Executive Director Melinda Quintos de Jesus said that November 23 should be declared as the International Day to End Impunity.

November 23, 2009 will be remembered for what is now known as the Maguindanao massacre in which 32 journalists were killed.

She said the news of the massacre brought outrage in and outside the Philippines, “it was a low point and people felt that if we did not call attention to this day and what happened on that day, we losing the point in demonstrating that impunity is indeed a reality that everyone needed to have.

“We are looking for solutions to the issues of attacks on press freedom and freedom of expression,” said De Jesus.

She says that since 1986, 120 journalists and media workers have been killed in the line of duty in the Philippines and only 10 convictions have landed in court, hired assassins have been convicted “but no mastermind has been brought to trial.”

CPJ Joel Simon called the Maguindanao massacre “the single deadliest event for journalists in history.”

Simon noted that the killings, “appears to be the single deadliest event for the press since 1992, when CPJ began keeping detailed records on journalists deaths.”

Most of the IFEX members at this year’s meeting in Beirut agreed to make November 23 as the International Day to Ending Impunity.

Pacific Islands News Association added its name to the list signing up for the International Day of Ending Impunity.

Several IFEX members have come together to strategise for the International Day to End Impunity to become a global event.

While we in the Pacific might not be in the same league as the countries tagged as a no-go zone for journalists, freedom of expression continues to come under attack where the more established democracies are witnessing threats in the form of violence against the media and efforts by various segments of society to censor and control the free flow of information.

An annual publication of the Media Institute of Southern Africa highlighted the various categories of attacks against the media and they are: killed, beaten, bombed, detained, censored, expelled, legislation, sentenced, threatened victory and others.

While the external has been given much publicity, the one that has escaped the radar is the internal and home grown problems faced by journalists the world over: low pay and long working hours.

There’s been a high turnover in the media industry in terms of journalists opting out of the mainstream into the high paid public relations work or switching jobs altogether.

Former International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), Secretary General, Aidan White believes that journalists need more training, be more informed and be knowledgeable of the importance of ethics if they are stay abreast of sweeping changes engulfing the communication and information sector globally.

White was facilitating a seminar titled, ‘Keeping the Faith: Ethical Journalism in a World of Conflict and Crisis’ in Beirut.

The seminar noted that the news agenda in 2011 is full of challenges – whether it’s religious rivalries, an Arab spring, race hatred on the march in Europe, drug-fuelled conflicts across Central Asia, poverty and social dislocation across much of Africa and Asia.

IFEX states that with so many threats on all sides there is an urgent need to reinforce moral values in journalism and to encourage transparent and responsible media that will continue to play pivotal role in shaping norms in society.

White has contributed to and written books on ethical journalism during his term with IFJ.

“I’m a firm believer still in the need for journalism because journalism is distinct, distinct form of expression, distinct because the very name journalist is framed in a set of values.

“It’s the notion that when you communicate information, whatever platform you use, you do so on the basis of a certain set of values.

“We know what they are - basically respect the truth, to be independent, to make sure that we respect our audience and do no harm, the aim is to be accountable.

“To make ourselves accountable to what we do, this is what makes journalism and journalists distinct.

“This is why journalism has in the past been a force for social progress. Journalism has shaped norms in society. And that capacity for journalism to be a good contributor to society and to democracy is fundamental,” White said.

The debate as he put it focused on the defense of right, protection of human rights and the need for quality of information in society.

The need for people to have access to useful, reliable, truthful, honest information, without it democracies cannot function.

He highlighted several issues:

1)    How to protect quality journalism and ethical journalism in a world of corruption and political intrigue and threats

2)    How to provide systems of media accountability which build public confidence and faith in journalism and in media systems

3)    How to extend the notion of values and standards to all of the communications community now, not only those who are employed in traditional media but all of the communications systems.

White told the gathering that codes of conducts say different things in different countries but actually they all say the same thing “tell the truth as you know it.

“Be independent. Don’t be a spokesperson for the ministry of information or the political party. Be yourself, have your own conscience, be respectful of the community. Be aware of the damage that could be done by the word and images that you use and make yourself accountable.

“That is to say, I’m a journalist, I’m proud of what I do, I’m ready to answer for what I do. “

In conclusion, White believes that one of the contributing factors to attacks on journalists is their resolve to uphold their ethical standards in a world of conflict and crisis.

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