Posted in Industry Insights

Calling on governments to create ‘a culture of safety for journalism’

, by Paul Colford

A UNESCO conference in Paris sought to attract decision makers of news organizations so they could share good practices on the safety of journalists and “more proactively highlight the issue of journalist safety.”

Speaking at today's gathering, Associated Press Vice President-International News John Daniszewski argued that a set of safety principles and best practices for news organizations and freelance journalists that were agreed-upon in 2014 are not enough.

Here is the text of his formal remarks:

We have been living through a crisis in journalism safety. In 2015, at least 71 journalists were killed worldwide for the work that they did. Scores more suffered serious injury. And too many have been arrested or censored. Global news coverage has always been fraught with danger. But as vice president of international news for The Associated Press, I have witnessed a growing impunity for crimes against the dedicated reporters, photographers and videographers who work every day to deliver the news to billions around the world. Some work for the AP and other large news organizations, but in most cases those who suffer the most are the most vulnerable practitioners: freelance and local journalists. My frustration and anger has only grown to see that in many cases it is not only armed militias and criminals carrying out crimes against journalists, but sometimes people acting on behalf of governments – governments that are pledged and obligated under international law to protect journalists along with other civilians in conflict zones. Often these same governments will state that the arrests or harassment of journalists in their country has nothing to do with their work, but that strains credulity. Whether by murder, violence, arrest or intimidation, the crimes taking place against journalists have become far too common. They have become normalized. That is part of the reason that in late 2014 an idea for an agreed set of safety principles and best announced these principles to the world in February last year, with AP, Reuters, AFP and a score of other news organizations and freelance groups among the charter signatories. By now, more than 90 news and journalism organizations around the world have signed on to these principles. But what I want to say at this forum is that it is not enough. Journalists and their supporters can work among themselves to enhance safety best practices. But unless governments, and organizations like the United Nations and UNESCO recommit themselves to the importance of a free media in a free world, all the talk among journalists will only help at the margins. What is needed is for governments to work hard in areas they control to create an environment where the role of a journalist is respected and protected, in accordance with international standard for free expression. Furthermore, we need governments to hold to account other governments who routinely deny media freedoms. The aim that we all share is to create a culture of safety for journalism. It can only occur if governmental bodies fulfill their proper role, alongside journalists and private groups, and all those who believe in the importance of a free media.

AP’s news leaders and CEO have been outspoken on the need to protect journalists worldwide – a cause more deeply felt at the news organization since AP photojournalist Anja Niedringhaus was shot to death in Afghanistan in 2014 and correspondent Kathy Gannon was seriously wounded.

Senior Vice President and Executive Editor Kathleen Carroll addressed the Inter American Press Association last October and she stressed before the UN Security Council in 2013 “the right of journalists around the world to work without threat or peril.”

Speaking last year to the Foreign Correspondents Club in Hong Kong, AP President and CEO Gary Pruitt said: “AP believes there needs to be a new international legal mechanism for protecting journalists -- one that makes killing journalists or taking them hostage a war crime.”