02 November 2020

UN: free press is essential for justice and peace in the world

UN Secretary-General and UNESCO Director-General have issued messages for International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists observed on 2 November


By Vatican News staff writer


The United Nations chief is calling for a free press and the protection of journalists against death, violence and threats saying when reporters are not safe, people can become vulnerable to misinformation and disinformation. 

“As the world fights the COVID-19 pandemic, I reiterate my call for a free press that can play its essential role in peace, justice, sustainable development and human rights,” said UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in a message for International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists, being marked on Monday.

The November 2 observance was adopted by the UN General Assembly on December 2013, urging Member States to implement definite measures aimed at countering the present culture of impunity regarding crimes against journalists.   It also urges the promotion of a safe and enabling environment for journalists to work independently and without undue interference.  The date was chosen in commemoration of the assassination of two French journalists in Mali on 2 November 2013.

Pandemic and journalism

In his message, Guterres noted that the pandemic has highlighted new perils for journalists and media workers, even as the number of attacks on their physical safety has grown. “There were at least 21 attacks on journalists covering protests in the first half of 2020 – equal to the number of such attacks in the whole of 2017.”

According to the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, UNESCO, nearly 1,200 journalists were killed between 2006 and 2019 for trying to keep the public informed.

Society pays a price when journalists are unsafe

Journalists have also been subject to constraints such as threats of prosecution, arrest, imprisonment, denial of journalistic access and failure to investigate and prosecute crimes against them. 

The UN Secretary-General argued, “when journalists are targeted, societies as a whole pay a price”.  “If we do not protect journalists,” he said, “our ability to remain informed and make evidence-based decisions is severely hampered.”  ”When journalists cannot do their jobs in safety, we lose an important defence against the pandemic of misinformation and disinformation that has spread online.”

“Fact-based news and analysis,” Guterres said, “depend on the protection and safety of journalists” who carry out independent reporting, rooted in the fundamental tenet of ‘journalism without fear or favour’.

"Speak truth to power"

UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay also issued a similar message for International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists, saying “one of the most important roles of journalists is to bring truth to light, i.e. “speak truth to power”.  However, she regretted  that for too many journalists, “truth and power do not always see eye to eye”.  Between 2010 and 2019, close to 900 journalists were killed while doing their job, more than 150 in the last two years alone.

Azoulay noted that most journalists are being killed outside conflict situations, for investigating issues such as corruption, trafficking, political wrongdoing, human rights violations and environmental issues.  In seven out of eight killings, she regretted, the perpetrators of these crimes go unpunished.  Journalists also face threats, kidnappings, arrests, imprisonments or harassment - offline and online, and targeting women in particular. 

This year, UNESCO’s  #EndImpunity campaign is highlighting some of the specific risks that journalists face in their duty to uncover the truth.   The UNESCO chief called on everyone to join the campaign, and urged all Member States and international and non-governmental organizations to join forces to guarantee the safety of journalists and root out impunity. 

“Only by investigating and prosecuting crimes against media professionals, Azoulay said, can we  guarantee access to information and freedom of expression.” “Only by speaking truth to power can we advance peace, justice and sustainable development in our societies.”