Journalists worldwide are being killed, prosecuted, imprisoned, threatened and attacked in record numbers. For that reason, the first resolution adopted by the United Nations General Assembly third committee on November 26 on the safety of journalists should be taken as a small victory — albeit one with with potentially big consequences:
By its terms, the General Assembly would condemn unequivocally all attacks and violence against journalists and media workers, such as torture, extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances and arbitrary detention, as well as intimidation and harassment in both conflict and non-conflict situations. It would also decide to proclaim 2 November as the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists.
That step forward in preventing violence against reporters was applauded throughout the International Press Freedom Awards held in New York later in the day. Organized by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), a nonprofit organization that works to safeguard press freedom around the world, the awardees Janet Hinostroza, Nedim Şener, Bassem Youssef and Nguyen Van Hai (from Ecuador, Turkey, Egypt and Vietnam, respectively) are living reminders of the political perils journalists face.
Ecuadorian television reporter Janet Hinostroza is proof of President Rafael Correa’s ongoing assault on free expression: in 2012 she received a series of anonymous phone calls threatening her safety — and her family’s — which forced her to take a leave of absence from her morning news program. “But we won’t give up, this is an opportunity to invent new ways to do journalism and in Ecuador we are figuring out how to do it,” she told Blouin News. Hinostroza acknowledged the power the Correa government has today — power rooted in its well-lined coffers. “The only thing that could weaken it is that money runs out ,and I don’t know if we are near it” she said, adding that if oil prices continue to go down it will hit Rafael Correa and his government hard.
A leading investigative journalist with Turkey’s daily Posta, Nedim Şener is a terrorist in the eyes of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. CPJ says that in 2012 Turkey was the world’s worst jailer of journalists with Şener being among them. He is currently free on conditional release pending the outcome of his trial: he faces up to 15 years in prison and confirms that the verdict will likely come in 2014. “I don’t see any signs that the press freedom will improve,” he told BN. “I’m somewhat optimistic, but our judiciary doesn’t run with the universal rules of law.” He sums up the current situation in Turkey by saying: “If you can scare and intimidate a journalist in a country, you can scare and intimidate the entire society so Turkey won’t be a more democratic country next year but more authoritarian.”
Egypt’s Bassem Youssef is a cardiac surgeon-turned-broadcaster who became a celebrity following Hosni Mubarak’s ouster in 2011 with his stark and pointedly satirical views. Today his show is suspended and is currently undergoing legal action between the Capital Broadcast center and his production team. “We started with a camera and a Youtube channel. I don’t know how this will end,” he declared. “My wish for humanity is to have the loudest laughs ever,” Youssef said. Laughter is something he and his fellow Egyptians will need to tackle their country’s toxic mix of state repression and political volatility.
Nguyen Van Hai — who didn’t attend, since he is currently serving a 12-year prison sentence; dire confirmation of the need for action on behalf of journalists — is one of the best-known bloggers in Vietnam, using his platform as a news outlet to counter the power of the state media monopoly. By doing so he has been accused of “conducting propaganda” against the state, which led to his detention.
There could no better time for the U.N. to take real action on this issue. Sadly, that depends on its member states complying. Don’t hold your breath.