by Julia M. Langlois

UNESCO’s Janis Karklins

The media has a significant role in today’s society. The press is responsible for keeping the entire world connected, no small feat. If it weren’t for the press and the technology today we would still be receiving news months after the event occurred, as people did in the early 1800’s. The media can inspire change in the world and encourage global aid through connectivity. Countries would be far more isolated from one another if the press did not report on current events and issues freely. In a video addressing the safety of journalists, Janis Karklins (UNESCO’s Assistant Director-General for Communication and Information) said that, “If journalists are not safe, the democratic society in the country suffers.” So how exactly do we safeguard such an important resource? Organizations, help from government and an overall awareness of the issues that occur within the media all support the freedom of the press.

A few organizations  help keep members of the press safe and encourage journalists’ ability to voice their opinions freely and safely. However, the world is not such a safe place for journalists. The United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organizations (UNESCO) article on the safety of journalists stated that “More than 600 journalists and media workers have been killed in the last ten years.” In the past year alone there has been a 33 percent increase in the deaths of journalists. How exactly will that encourage writers to speak freely of what is going on in the world? It doesn’t, which is exactly why organizations such as Reporters Without Borders are so important. Reporters Without Borders fights for freedom of information which directly correlates to freedom of the press. Among other activities, the organization provides resources so journalists know how to handle dangerous situations; it provides financial support and protection for the families of journalists who have been imprisoned. Organizations such as Reporters Without Borders are essential to freedom of the press.

Government action encourages freedom of the press by providing a safe work environment. Legislation has already been brought to the UN to encourage change after diplomats recognized an increase in violence within the world of press workers. This past April, the UN Chief Executives Board agreed to the UNESCO led Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity. The plan helps countries develop their own legislation to ensure the freedom and safety of journalists, creating  an inter-agency initiative to watch and solve issues concerning the safety and freedom of journalists. Irina Bokova, The Director-General of UNESCO, said “the safety of journalists is essential to upholding Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that guarantees the right to freedom of expression.” This shows that government understands just how important to defend  freedom of expression ..

It is unfortunate that it has taken so long for the public to recognize the poor condition of freedom of the in other areas of the world. However, in the past year the UN has created new legislation, and organizations such as Reporters Without Borders are hard at work. There is much more work to accomplish. Establishing a safe haven for journalists when they have been violated and assaulted would be a start  bolstered by  consequences and action in defence of these press workers. A journalist dies every week and 90 percent of their murderers are not punished.

Freedom of the press is essential to the world and those that live in it. Opinions need to be voiced to  support democracy and there should be no fear of threats, being  jailed or death. UNESCO’s efforts to monitor the safety and freedom of the press and organizations that are specifically geared to freedom of the press are all steps to greater press freedom. Legislation that is now in place is fairly new but has the potential to be very efficient. With the world’s participation and awareness of these laws, there could be brighter years ahead for the world of the press and its freedom.