Stop targeting journalists

ONCE again the world observes Press Freedom Day on May 3. Once again all over the world, people will know how media were censored, fined, suspended or shut down. We will also know during 2013 how many journalists were killed, murdered or found missing. We will know how many editors and newspaper publishers were harassed, attacked, jailed and killed.

Once a year the public are sensitised on issues relating to freedom of expression and human rights. Readers might interpret my remarks to be cynical. Certainly there is nothing negative against Press Freedom Day. What I am trying to say is that "the day" comes every year and we come to know about the suffering of journalists all over the world and it is repeated every year. The incidents recur and we helplessly watch in silence.

The year 2013 was a bad year for journalists in many countries. Like 2012, in 2013, 70 journalists or media personal were killed or murdered. It is needless to mention where and how many were jailed, kidnapped or tortured. The point is, that mere statistics of the sad events do not help the public. We want to know what strict and specific measures international agencies including the United Nations have taken to minimise such happenings.

When it comes to other problems related to politics or social disorder, we see the big powers with active or passive support from smaller countries, imposing measures such as sanctions on countries where it occurs. But it is unfortunate that no such action has yet been taken when it concerns the killing or murder of journalists. We have seen a lot of celebrations or magnanimous statements from world leaders, but has there been any international programme or UN assembly session to discuss how to stop the persecution of journalists, at least, minimise such occurrences in future?

Reporters Without Borders which initiated World Press Freedom Day remarked that the level of violence against news providers over the last two years was unprecedented with a record number of journalists killed. Without making Word Press Freedom Day a mere ceremonial occasion, "it must be used to pay tribute to all journalists, professional and amateur, who have paid for their reports, with their lives, their physical integrity or their freedom and to denounce the impunity enjoyed by these predators."

While advocating international action against murder or torture of journalists, it is worth mentioning that the UN has published an action plan on the safety of journalists and measures to combat crimes of violence against them.

We are already aware that the creation of the International Criminal Court has not helped advance the fight against impunity for those responsible for the most serious crimes of violence against journalists, although journalists play a fundamental role in providing information and issuing alerts during domestic and international armed conflicts. Its jurisdiction covers when the crimes takes place on the territory of a state which is a party to the Rome Statute or "if the accused person is a citizen of a party". It may be noted the Rome Statute does not provide any specific charge for deliberated physical attacks on journalists.

In light of the above it is critical and essential that supporters of press freedom worldwide are able to understand and get organised to contribute to the debate surrounding these goals. On World Press Freedom Day concerned citizens should have the chance to take part in events that focus on understanding efforts made to protect journalists and prevent impunity, and promote development of media and sustain the integrity of journalism in increasingly complex societies. That is why we should support independent journalism based on professional ethics and self-regulatory principles.

Khairul Bashar is a former journalist and has served in the United Nations. He lectures on Communication, Journalism and Political Science in Unisel. Comments: