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Journalism: A Profession Worth Dying For?

UNITED NATIONS, Jul 18 2013 (IPS) - Seventy-two journalists were killed in 2012, an increase of 49 percent since 2011, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

“Combat-related deaths in Syria and targeted murders in Somalia, Pakistan, and Brazil are the driving forces behind a sharp rise in press fatalities in 2012,” CPJ Advocacy and Communications Director Gypsy Guillén Kaiser told IPS.

Twenty-eight of the 72 casualties lost their lives in Syria, and 12 in Somalia.

“They call me a dead man walking,” Somali journalist Mustafa Haji Abdinur told the United Nations Security Council Wednesday, at a special session convened to discuss press freedom and evaluate progress on protecting journalists since the 15-member body last discussed the issue back in 2006.

Though the discussion focused on the protection of journalists in armed conflict, Abdinur’s story – and the stories of countless others – highlight the fact that most attacks on the press happen outside of war zones.

Addressing the council, Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson stressed that the vast majority of the 600 journalists murdered in the last decade were local reporters, who came under attack for exposing corruption and other illegal activities within the political system.

The assembled U.N. representatives agreed almost unanimously that the number one cause for the rising death toll of media personnel was impunity, with 90 percent of assassinations going unpunished.

In 2012, not a single aggressor was prosecuted for attacks on the press, sending a strong signal to political groups, criminal organisations, the military and governments that they are free to torture and even kill reporters without fearing any consequences.

Professionals in the field say that semantics are part of the problem. While covering the on-going protests in Turkey’s Taksim Square, NBC correspondent Richard Engel found himself questioning who exactly counted as a “journalist.”

As most people in the crowd possessed cameras, it was “confusing for police officers to identify who was a journalist, and who was not,” Engel told the Council on Wednesday.

Once an exclusive profession, with members of the “press” easily distinguishable from others in the crowd, the notion of journalism has today been blurred by technology such as cameras with cell phones, and the proliferation of blogs and social media sites that often double up as news portals.

Statistics on press freedom reflect this confusion: last year, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) put the death toll at 121, while Reporters Without Borders (MSF) only counted 89 deaths. CPJ recorded the lowest number, 72.

So far the most promising solution to the problem takes the form of the U.N. Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issues of Impunity, approved in April 2012 by the U.N. Chief Executives Board.

Several states reaffirmed their support of the action plan Wednesday, signalling a positive step forward as government cooperation is crucial for success.

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