The UN warns of threats to the freedom of media professionals

This day highlights the essential work they do, to hold the government accountable, with transparency, “often at the risk of their lives,” said UN Secretary-General António Guterres in a video message .

“We pay special tribute to those who have no choice but to work in an environment of growing harassment, intimidation, surveillance and risk to their lives and livelihoods,” said Michelle Bachelet, the UN High Commissioner. for Human Rights.

“It simply came to our notice then. So that we have access to free, accurate and independent information. So that we can live in just and peaceful societies. His work helps to lay the groundwork for some of the basic human rights we all need to enjoy: freedom of opinion, information and expression, ”he said.

On the front lines of the crisis

“During the Covid-19 pandemic, many media workers have been at the forefront, providing accurate, science-based reports to inform decision-makers and save lives,” the UN secretary-general said. .

“At the same time, journalists covering climate, biodiversity and pollution have managed to draw global attention to this triple planetary crisis,” he said.

But threats to their freedom to tell and tell stories in a fair and accurate way are increasing day by day.

“From global health to the climate crisis, to corruption and human rights abuses, they are facing a greater politicization of their work and attempts to silence them from all sides,” said António. Guterres.

According to Michelle Bachelet, the number of journalists detained worldwide rose to 293 last year. “Legal proceedings are also increasingly being used against investigative journalists to obstruct their work,” he said.

The killings of journalists continue around the world. Although the number of reported killings of journalists dropped to 55 last year, impunity remains widespread: 87% of murders committed since 2006 remain unresolved, UNESCO said in a report.

Challenges of digital technology

While “digital technology has democratized access to information, it has also created serious challenges,” said António Guterres.

According to Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), “the emergence of online platforms raises the question of the economic viability of the media. independent and pluralistic, and alters existing value chains and business models. ” .

The head of the UN, for his part, noted that many social media platforms make their money not by improving access to fact-based reporting, but by encouraging engagement, “which often means provoking outrage and spreading lies “.

“Media workers in war zones are threatened not only by bombs and bullets, but also by the weapons of counterfeiting and misinformation that accompany modern warfare. They can be attacked as enemies, accused of espionage, arrested or killed, just to do their job, “he said.

Thus, the digital age has increased the risk of media professionals and their sources being attacked, harassed and attacked by various means, such as data retention, spyware and digital surveillance, said Ms. . Azoulay.

Ms Bachelet explained that the increasing use of surveillance tools, such as Pegasus or Candiru spyware, is being deeply ingrained in people’s devices and lives. “These tools are an insult to the right to privacy and an obstruction of freedom of expression,” he insisted.

“The use of spyware has led to arrests, intimidation and even murder of journalists. He endangered his sources. It put their families at risk, ”he said, noting that in order to counteract these risks, journalists are often forced to take the dangerous path of self-censorship.

According to Ms. Bachelet, Pegasus spyware is used in at least 45 countries, often with the utmost secrecy and outside any legal framework. “These new methods of surveillance, which are evolving rapidly, present a large number of risks and challenges,” he warned.

According to the UN Secretary-General, digital technology has also facilitated censorship for authoritarian and other governments, “seeking to suppress the truth, with many journalists and editors facing the prospect of seeing their work on a daily basis. offline “.

Women are especially at risk

MINUSMA / Marco Dormino

A Malian journalist in the studio of Radio Guintan in Bamako, the capital of Mali

Digital technology is also creating new channels of oppression and abuse, and women journalists are especially vulnerable to harassment and online violence.

UNESCO found that nearly three-quarters of the women surveyed had suffered online violence. Piracy and illegal surveillance also prevent journalists from doing their job.

“And because these technologies are rarely the subject of transparent or accountable regulation, the perpetrators of this violence act with complete impunity, often without a trace,” lamented UNESCO chief Audrey Azoulay.

“Methods and tools are changing, but the goal of discrediting the media and hiding the truth remains the same,” leading citizens living in societies without free media to be “horribly manipulated,” he said. the head of the UN. .

Action plan for the safety of journalists

A man wearing a mask with the message:


A man wearing a mask with the message, “Stop killing journalists.”

The UN Secretary-General recalled that “without freedom of the press, there are no truly democratic societies. Without freedom of the press, there is no freedom. “

That should stop, said the Director-General of UNESCO. “Technological advances must be based on respect for the freedom, confidentiality and security of journalists. Social media, in particular, must step up efforts to counter widespread misinformation and hate speech, while protecting freedom of expression. “

Respect for human rights is not just a duty of states, Michelle Bachelet said. He urged private surveillance companies “to publicly assert their responsibility to respect freedom of expression and privacy, to carry out due diligence on human rights and to report transparently on their activities.” And he insisted that this be done in regular consultation with civil society.

Ten years ago, the UN established an action plan on the safety of journalists, to protect media workers and end impunity for crimes against them, and the UN continues to fight to protect their rights.

Over the next 10 years and to invigorate the fight for the security of journalists, freedom of expression and access to information for all, the Presidents of the United Nations General Assembly, the General Conference of UNESCO and the Human Rights Council jointly convened a statement on Member States, the United Nations system, regional authorities, civil society, the judiciary and all relevant actors to join forces to promote the objectives of the United Nations United Nations Plan of Action.

“By working together to strengthen its implementation and achieve the 16.10 goal of the SDGs (ensuring public access to information), we can continue to create a safer and more conducive environment for journalists and media professionals. and to protect the right of every citizen to a reliable environment and often life-saving information, ”they concluded.

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