Today marks 100 days since the arrest and detention in Egypt of three respected and highly professional Al Jazeera journalists, Peter Greste, Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed. No credible evidence has been produced to justify their imprisonment and prosecution. We call for the release from jail of those three individuals and the freeing of more than 200 other journalists around the world who are now held behind bars only because they were doing their jobs.
Journalism is not a crime; it is essential for a free and open society. Journalism has become increasingly dangerous. It is primarily the responsibility of governments to ensure effective protections for free speech and the safety of journalists, whose task is to provide reliable and unbiased information within and across national borders.
UNESCO, the United Nations agency which monitors attacks against journalists, reports that a total of 542 journalists were killed between January 2007 and today. In Syria more than 80 journalists have been killed in the past three years alone. Others become victims of abductions and have been held for long periods. In many parts of the world journalists, including online journalists and bloggers, face serious intimidation and violence, leading to growing patterns of censorship and self-censorship. We stand against these abuses and today we call on the governments concerned to investigate each one of those crimes promptly and effectively so as to bring those responsible to justice.
It is an affront to every notion of justice that in recent times fewer than one in ten of all killings of journalists have resulted in convictions for the perpetrators. Such a climate of impunity has a chilling effect on whole societies and impedes the work of both local and international news organisation. We welcome last Decembers’ unanimous decision in the UN General Assembly to declare November 2 the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists.
It was on November 2 last year that two French journalists, Ghislaine Dupont and Claude Verlon, were brutally murdered while on assignment in Mali by members of the armed group which had kidnapped them. The increase in such attacks and killings directed against members of the media who seek to report at first-hand about significant events should be a cause of public concern. It underlines the urgency of establishing a safe and enabling environment for journalism, which is the declared and proper goal of the UN’s Action Plan on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity.
We also acknowledge the vital work of many civil society organisations which campaign for free speech and media freedom, and at the meeting here today we have welcomed the willingness of many media organisations to put aside their everyday rivalries in support of the right to report and the safety of journalists.
This statement was issued at BBC’s Safety of Journalists Symposium on Monday 7 April 2014 hosted by BBC Global News and CFOM, the Centre for Freedom of the Media at the University of Sheffield, in cooperation with the BBC College of Journalism.