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Providing Safety, Combating Impunity on World Press Freedom Day

UNITED NATIONS, May 3 2013 (IPS) - Securing the safety of journalists and media workers is an urgent matter. More than 600 journalists and media workers have been killed in the last ten years. In other words, every week a journalist loses his or her life while bringing news and information to the public. These statistics highlight the relevance of the World Press Freedom (WPF) Day, which remains the fundamental principles of press freedom.

WPF Day, proclaimed by the U.N. General Assembly in 1993, celebrates its 20th anniversary in 2013. It focuses on the theme “Safe to Speak: Securing Freedom of Expression in All Media” and puts the spotlight on issues relating to safety of journalists, combating impunity for crimes against freedom of expression and securing a free and open Internet as the precondition for online safety.

“As we mark WPF Day, let us pledge to do our utmost to enable all journalists in all media to do their jobs.  When it is safe to speak, the whole world benefits,” said Ban Ki-moon, U.N. Secretary-General.

According to Reporters Without Borders (RWB), 19 journalists have already been killed in 2013, and 174 journalists and 162 netizens are in prison. The 2013 RWB WPF Index marks a return to a more usual configuration, after the Arab springs and other protest movements that prompted the fluctuations in last year’s index.

The same three European countries that headed the index last year hold the top three positions in 2013- Finland, Netherlands and Norway. Although many criteria are considered, ranging from legislation to violence against journalists, dictatorial regimes occupy the last three positions : the same three as last year- Turkmenistan, North Korea and Eritrea.

Journalists need to be safe to speak and not be jeopardized.” Impunity not only hurts media workers but all of us”, said Peter Launsky-Tieffenthal, Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information.

In past years, only about one-in-ten cases of crimes against journalists, media workers, and social media producers has led to a conviction. This level of impunity is not just bad in principle in terms of flouting the rule of law, in terms of which every State has a duty to protect its citizens in general, but it sends a signal to the wider public to keep quiet about corruption, environmental damage or human rights violations.

Various countries and organizations have been working on reducing impunity independently or in close cooperation.  For example, The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) issues an annual index on impunity tracking some of the highest rates of impunity around the world.

The 2013 WPF Day also highlights the digitalization of the media landscape, the reinforcement of the global trend of freelancing and the importance to provide the same protection as professional journalists for the citizen reporters and individual bloggers, while they may lack established forms of institutional gate-keeping.

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