Els Van Winckel, member of the Zonta International United Nations (UN) Committee in Geneva, attended the 70th anniversary celebration of the Geneva Association of United Nations Correspondents (ACANU) on 25 February. At the event, António Guterres (pictured), Secretary-General of the UN, addressed the issue of press freedom and the growing number of assaults and physical attacks on journalists.
He mentioned a recent report by UNESCO, which states that the press has become less free in recent years, also in democracies. According to the World Trends in Freedom of Expression and Media Development Global Report 2017/2018, 530 journalists were killed from 2012 to 2017. Hundreds risk their lives in the most dangerous places on earth and, as of 1 December 2016, more than 250 journalists were in prison.
“Journalists are on the front lines, sounding the first alarm, questioning official accounts, looking into difficult and dangerous issues and – at their best – asking questions that demand an answer to and telling truths that must be heard,” Guterres said in his remarks.
He later added: “We – the international community – cannot remain silent.”
Violence against journalists reached unprecedented levels in 2018, according to Reporters Without Borders, which has raised the alarm about the growing number of journalists and other media workers killed, attacked or jailed.
Guterres said the media has become significantly less free in recent years and “women journalists are often at greater risk of being targeted, including through online threats of sexual violence.”
He also explained the importance of the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists and called on governments and the international community to protect journalists and media workers, to create the conditions they need to do their essential work, and to investigate and prosecute the perpetrators of attacks on them.
Women honored with new international journalism awards
The ACANU presented two new awards on international journalism, which aim to recognize journalists for their outstanding work while facing growing hostility. Two of the three recipients are women: Jennifer O’Mahony and Camille Pagella.
O’Mahony, a British freelancer, received the prize for “Excellence in Reporting” for her article published in The Telegraph, “Algeria dumps thousands of migrants in the Sahara amid EU-funded crackdown.”
“I hope this award will bring much-needed attention to the plight of migrants, including children, who are rounded up like cattle and dumped in the desert without food or water,” O’Mahony said.
The ACANU prize for “Best Journalistic Coverage of Human Rights” was awarded to two Geneva journalists—Pagella of the Swiss magazine L’Illustré, and Adrià Budry Carbó of the Swiss newspaper Le Temps—for their article, “Piège en haute mer” (or “Trap on the high seas”). The article was published in Le Temps and selected for the quality of the writing and the strong narrative, with well-developed characters and dramatic scene-setting reminiscent of criminal fiction.
Panel discussion: Press Freedom and journalists under attack
A panel discussion on press freedom and journalists under attack was chaired by Nina Larson, president of ACANU, with Peggy Hicks, director of Thematic Engagement, Special Procedures and Right to Development Division, UN High Commission for Human Rights; Christophe Deloire, secretary-general, Reporters Without Borders; and David Sylvan, professor, international relations and political science, the Graduate Institute, Geneva.
It was made clear in the discussion that fake news is a worldwide phenomenon, whilst several state agencies falsely present themselves as independent journalists.
Deloire said that oligarchic control of the media and restrictive laws were like invisible prisons, where “there is no visible victim, there is no blood, no people in jail, but the information can be controlled.”
Sylvan added that he expects that physical attacks and assaults on the credibility of journalists and media organizations will not stop in the coming years but will continue and most likely increase, putting a heavy toll on media freedom.
Physical attacks and the growing number of assaults are taking a heavy toll on media freedom. The journalistic profession appears to be facing an existential threat, as its role within society and democratic space is being questioned.
Click here to learn more about ACANU and how it has striven to support and protect journalists accredited to the UN in Geneva for the last 70 years.