UN chief António Guterres lamented on Monday that freedom of the press was increasingly “shrinking” worldwide, and called on decision-makers to better protect journalists and media workers.
Paying tribute to reporters around the world who “put their lives on the line” to tell important stories, Secretary-General Guterres said during the event marking the 70th anniversary of the Geneva Association of UN Correspondents (ACANU):
“We’ve come a long way towards realising freedom of expression, and other fundamental freedoms. The right to access to information is entrenched in law in over a hundred countries. But despite these advances, in recent years, civic space has been shrinking worldwide at an alarming rate.”
In just over a decade, more than 1,000 journalists have been killed while carrying out their work. In nine out of 10 cases, no one was held accountable.
Last year alone, the UN agency advocating for freedom of the press, UNESCO, reported that at least 99 journalists were killed and thousands more were attacked, harassed, detained or imprisoned on spurious charges, without due process. Women journalists are often at greater risk of being targeted, including through online threats of sexual violence, he said.
The Secretary-General stressed that the vast majority of those detained and attacked are local journalists working in their own countries and communities, and that “most of the journalists and media workers killed, injured and detained were covering politics, crime, corruption and human rights,” not conflict.
Calling this state of affairs “outrageous,” the UN chief stated that “when journalists are targeted, societies as a whole pay a price” as “no democracy is complete without press freedom”.
Holding power to account
“Journalism and the media are essential to peace, justice, sustainable development and human rights for all – and to the work of the UN,” he noted, paying tribute to journalists who “go to the most dangerous places on earth, to bring us important information, to give a voice to people who are being ignored and abused, and to hold the powerful to account”.
“In the two years since I became Secretary-General, the media has brought to light dramatic human suffering in conflict zones, major cases of corruption and nepotism, ethnic cleansing, premeditated sexual and gender-based violence and more, from every corner of the globe,” Guterres said according to the UN’s news portal.
The UN chief called on governments and the international community to “protect journalists and media workers, and to create the conditions they need to do their essential work, and to investigate and prosecute the perpetrators of attacks on them”.
Andrew Caruana Galizia, the son of assassinated Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, Andrew, on Monday stressed that “impunity persists” on his mother’s case. At an event organised by international organisation Article 19 as the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) began its 40th session in Geneva, he said his mother’s targeted assassination was a culmination in failures of government protection.