Press Freedom and Aggravated Hazards of Journalism

By Paul Ejime

THE more than 100 journalists and media workers killed as of 3rd May 2024 in the ongoing Israel-Gaza conflict, ignited by Hamas’ unprecedented attack against Israel on 7th of October 2023, makes it the deadliest period for journalists since the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) began gathering data in 1992.

This year alone, 25 journalists and media workers have been killed, including 20 in Gaza alone, according to the U.S.-based CPJ, a non-profit organization, that advocates for press freedom and the protection of journalists worldwide.

The Committee also says that it is investigating numerous unconfirmed reports of other journalists being killed, missing, detained, hurt, or threatened, and of damage to media offices and journalists’ homes.

Globally, more than 35,000 Palestinians have been reported killed in Gaza and the West Bank, and 1,200 in Israel since the Hamas attack and Israeli retaliations.

Every death in a conflict is one too many, journalists are not special.

However, the CPJ Programme Director Carlos Martínez de la Serna posits that: “Journalists are civilians who are protected by international humanitarian law in times of conflict. Those responsible for their deaths face dual trials: one under international law and another before history’s unforgiving gaze.”

CPJ’s President, Jodie Ginsberg, put it more succinctly: “Every journalist killed is a further blow to our understanding of the world.”

Speaking on behalf of all advocates of press freedom she said: “(We) must work collectively to ensure that journalist killers are brought to justice … and that the public’s right to be informed is protected from those whose power is threatened by the scrutiny of reporting.”

In his speech to mark this year’s World Press Day or World Press Freedom Day, Volker Türk, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights paid tribute to the “countless, fearless individuals daring to question,” including “71 journalists and media workers killed and the 320 imprisoned, in 2023, the highest number ever.”

Describing 2023 as “a devastating year for journalism,” the senior UN official said: “It was a year characterized – again – by impunity. Only 13% of the murder cases have been investigated, he said, adding: “When we lose a journalist, we lose our eyes and ears to the outside world. We lose a voice for the voiceless.”

The 2024 World Press Freedom Day focuses attention on the climate and the environment under the theme “A Press for the Planet: Journalism in the Face of Environmental Crisis.”

Türk said the occasion was being marked “in an era of acute global turmoil and the profound fragmentation and polarisation of humanity,” with “conflict boiling over in many places – from Myanmar to Sudan, Ukraine, Gaza, and several other parts of the world – causing intolerable human suffering.”

According to him: “Disinformation is infecting our media and digital landscapes, fuelling hate and division. And as climate change batters our fragile planet, the lives and livelihoods of future generations are under the gravest threat this world has ever known.”

He acknowledged “journalists around the world who are working to hold polluters accountable for the damage and the devastation. They are driving open debate and critical thinking,” the UN official affirmed.

“And by separating facts from lies and propaganda, they are pushing for evidence-based policy decisions on the climate crisis that the world so urgently needs.

Environmental journalists need stronger commitments from their governments and their employers to protect them. Better and safer working conditions…

The dramatic consequences of inertia and inaction on the climate crisis are unfolding as we speak. This doesn’t have to be the case,” Türk added.

The World Press Freedom Day is observed annually on May 3rd. It was established by the UN General Assembly in 1993, following a recommendation adopted at UNESCO’s General Conference in 1991.

The day celebrates the fundamental principles of press freedom, evaluates press freedom around the world, defends the media from attacks on their independence, and pays tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the exercise of their profession.

The date was also chosen to commemorate the Windhoek (Namibia) Declaration, on free press principles put together by African newspaper journalists in 1991.

It emphasizes the importance of freedom of the press and reminds governments of their duty to respect and uphold the right to freedom of expression enshrined under Article 19 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

As part of the commemoration, the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize is conferred on deserving individuals, organizations, or institutions that have made outstanding contributions to the defence and promotion of press freedom worldwide.

The prize is named after Guillermo Cano Isaza, a Colombian journalist who was assassinated in front of the offices of his newspaper, El Espectador, in Bogotá in 1986.

Cano’s writings offended Colombia’s powerful drug barons, and journalists in other parts of the World face similar threats today.

According to the 2024 World Press Freedom Index, Norway ranks the highest in press freedom, while Eritrea ranks the lowest.

According to the CPJ, of the 320 journalists and media workers imprisoned as of December 1, 2023, China with (44), followed by Myanmar (43), Belarus (28), Russia (22), and Vietnam (19), rank as having the highest number of jailed journalists.

Paul Ejime, a former War Correspondent, is a Global Affairs Analyst and Consultant on Peace & Security and Governance Communications

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