The Media Freedom Coalition commemorates the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists to highlight the indispensable role of journalists and media workers in protecting and promoting the right to freedom of expression for all individuals.
This year we spotlight the fundamental importance of independent journalism and media for election processes. With 65 national elections expected in 54 countries in 2024, impacting half the global population, this importance cannot be overestimated. The integrity of democratic processes relies upon the free flow of information and ideas, as guaranteed by Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Beyond political parties and candidates, the media, often supported by interpreters, are one of the most important sources of election-related information for the public and a key enabler of transparent, free and fair electoral procedures.
However, violence and crimes against journalists are a significant concern during elections. Between January 2019 and June 2022, UNESCO registered physical attacks against journalists related to elections in at least 89 elections in 70 countries and a total of 759 journalists and media professionals reportedly attacked – 42% by law enforcement. The UN Secretary-General’s report on the Safety of Journalists and Impunity from UN Secretary-General’s report on the Safety of Journalists and Impunity from 2 August 2023 notes that the use of non-lethal ammunition by the police, ranging from rubber bullets to pepper balls, has injured dozens of journalists. Many other journalists have been arrested, beaten and subjected to other forms of physical and psychological ill-treatment.
With the ubiquity of digital technologies, the pressure, restrictions and stigmatisation of journalists and other media workers continues to shift to the online sphere. While digital technologies can broaden and deepen citizen engagement in electoral processes, online violence, hate speech and disinformation is increasingly targeted at journalists and media workers, with a disproportionately severe impact on women journalists. This combines with threats from malicious cyber actors, including the targeting of journalists by commercial intrusion software (sometimes referred to as spyware). Internet shutdowns prevent individuals from exercising the right to free expression about elections and undermine the watchdog role of journalists and media during elections. Yet, an important role of a strong and diverse media landscape is to challenge those in power to do better and demand accountability.
The Media Freedom Coalition reaffirms its commitments made on the occasion of the high-level conference in Vienna last year on the tenth anniversary of the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists. Now is the time to join forces for our common goal: to create a safer environment for journalists around the globe and to end impunity for crimes against them.