The AEJ’s Media Freedom Representative, William Horsley, spoke about how to fight repression of journalists and uphold the rule of law duringthe international meeting of over 300 journalists, editors, lawyers, UN officials and defenders of media freedom from 2-4 May in San Jose, Costa Rica marking the 20th anniversary of the first World Press Freedom Dayin 1993. The imprisoned Ethiopian woman journalist Reeyot Alemu was chosen as the winner of the 2013 UNESCO-Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize. Ms Alemu was praised for her “exceptional courage, resistance and commitment to freedom of expression.”
The Conference concluded with the San Jose Declaration , which underlines the deep concern about the attacks on freedom of expression, in particular against those who practice journalism. It also calls on UNESCO Member States to create a safe legal and institutional environment for journalists to report, and to ensure that crimes against journalists or media outlets are subject to independent, speedy and effective investigations and prosecutions”. It also urges them to support implementation of the UN Plan of Action on The Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity, and declares that Freedom of expression must extend to all new media.
The AEJ’s Media Freedom Representative, William Horsley, spoke during the conference in a session on Fighting Impunity with the Law, Justice and Regional Organizations. He outlined the significance of recent developments in Europe aimed at ensuring better protection for journalists against targeted violence and judicial harassment including arbitrary imprisonment. They include the recent decisions by the European Court of Human Rights to find States in violation of their ‘positive obligation’ to provide effective physical protection to journalists who were publicly threatened and later killed – including in the cases of Georgiy Gongadze (Ukraine) and Hrant Dink (Turkey).
The Costa Rica meeting focused on many concrete ways in which all the stakeholders in upholding free expression and press freedom, including journalists associations, media houses, civil society groups, governments and UN agencies, can contribute directly to ensuring a safe environment for journalists everywhere and to the fight against impunity. In nine out of every case when journalists are murdered, the perpetrators are able to evade justice because of complicity or collusion on the part of state authorities. UNESCO says in a statement prepared for Press Freedom Day
that impunity for attacks on journalists sends a signal to the wider public to keep quiet about corruption, environmental damage or human rights violations. The result is self-censorship across a society and an erosion of public faith in the judicial system. Those who threaten or use violence against journalists are emboldened when they see that it is possible to disregard any prospect of punishment.
The AEJ, with other professional journalists’ organisations, regards such cover-ups of corruption and abuses of power linked to attacks on journalists and impunity as a matter of serious concern for journalists everywhere. UNESCO has called on journalists to respond with integrity by being a true watchdog and ‘asking the tough questions’. The London Statement by members of the global media community
delivered to the UN in 2012 encouraged the media everywhere to scrutinise the actions of governments and judiciaries wherever such problems exist, because without freedom of expression citizens cannot be protected against injustice and tyranny.