Four years ago, the United Nations designated the 2nd of November, as the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists. Sadly the need to address this impunity remains all to urgent.
The targeted killing of Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia is a chilling reminder of the life-endangering situations journalists around the world continue to work in. Yet unfortunately Ms Caruana Galizia is not the only one to pay the ultimate price for her courageous investigative journalism. In 2017 alone, 55 other journalists were killed worldwide.
This cannot remain without consequences. Journalism and the media are one of the cornerstones of free democracies and as such are to be cherished and protected. Yet increasingly, it is states themselves that actively work to prevent journalists from doing their jobs, often as parts of a wider attempt to diminish critical voices from civil society. As we speak, hundreds of journalists in Turkey find themselves in wrongful detention on false or trumped up charges. Chances for a fair trial are slim. At the same time, journalists in Egypt, face continuous illegal surveillance, social media monitoring and live in constant fear of arrest. Media websites remain blocked.
At the end of 2016, 259 journalists were in jail in over 30 countries, and in countries such as Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Nigeria, where armed groups including Al-Shabaab, Daesh, the Taliban and Boko Haram have made it their mission to stifle free speech, journalists are targets. This is a worrying global trend, only exacerbated by the rise of new digital technologies used by authoritarian regimes to monitor a journalist’s every move. At the same time President Trump’s denunciations of the media as 'fake' have now become so severe that UN Human Rights Chief Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein issued a stark warning (1).
With a worrying decline of the safety of journalists worldwide, and a decline in American leadership to credibly advance the space for media pluralism and freedom globally, Europe needs to step up to the plate. But in Europe too, leading by example is essential. Press freedom is one of the fundamental values the EU has committed to uphold and protect globally. This commitment must come with concrete actions. Too often, Europe turns a blind eye to crimes committed against journalists - in and by countries - in exchange for other, short term interests.
Faced with the disturbingly high numbers of journalists jailed, threatened and murdered, EU leaders should do more, starting with consistently denouncing any wrongful act against journalists, whether by governments or armed groups. The EEAS should also more actively integrate the guidelines on freedom of expression online and offline in all our international relations, monitor trials against journalists, and follow up investigations into violence or murders. Where journalists risk being silenced through lengthy and costly trials against them, the EU should assist by funding legal defense aid through civil society.
Today we honor and commemorate the important work of journalists worldwide, and commit to ending impunity for crimes against journalists.