UN Secretary-General António Guterres bemoaned that that freedom of the press was increasingly “shrinking” worldwide, and called on decision-makers to better protect journalists and media workers.
“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”, Mr Guterres said during an event to mark the 70th anniversary of the Geneva Association of UN Correspondents (ACANU).
According to UN statistics, 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 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. UNESCO said women journalists are often at greater risk of being targeted, including through online threats of sexual violence.
Mr Guterres 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”.
“Journalism and the media are essential to peace, justice, sustainable development and human rights for all – and to the work of the United Nations,” he noted.
“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,” said Mr Guterres. “In some cases, these reports were the basis for further investigations by independent observers and human rights reporters,” he added.
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”.