Are journalists safe? No, as per the latest report of the UN, the number of journalists killed in 2022 increased significantly.
In the 2021-2022 freedom of expression report, UNESCO said that 86 journalists were killed last year, amounting to one every four days, up from 55 killings in 2021.
The findings highlight the grave risks and vulnerabilities that journalists continue to face in the course of their work, the UN agency said.
“Authorities must step up their efforts to stop these crimes and ensure their perpetrators are punished because indifference is a major factor in this climate of violence,” said UNESCO Director-GeneralAudrey Azoulay, describing the findings as “alarming”.
NO SAFE SPACES
UNESCO pointed out that nearly half of the journalists killed were targeted while off duty. Some were attacked while travelling, or in parking lots or other public places where they were not on assignment, while others were in their homes at the time of their killing, the report added.
The report warned that this implies that “there are no safe spaces for journalists, even in their spare time”.
Despite progress in the past five years, the rate of impunity for journalist killings remains “shockingly high” at 86 per cent. Combating impunity remains a pressing commitment on which international cooperation must be further mobilized, the Report mentioned.
In addition to killing, journalists in 2022 also were victims of other forms of violence. This included enforced disappearance, kidnapping, arbitrary detention, legal harassment and digital violence, with women particularly being targeted.
The UNESCO study highlighted challenges for journalists, pointing out that the weaponization of defamation laws, cyber laws, and anti “fake news” legislation, are being used as a means of limiting freedom of speech and creating a toxic environment for journalists to operate in.
MEXICO DEADLIEST COUNTRY FOR JOURNALISTS
The report finds Latin America and the Caribbean as the deadliest for journalists in 2022 with 44 killings, over half of all of those killed worldwide. It mentioned that Mexico, with 19 killings, Ukraine with 10 and Haiti with nine are the deadliest countries. Asia and the Pacific registered 16 killings, while 11 were killed in Eastern Europe.
While the number of journalists killed in countries in conflict rose to 23 in 2022, compared with 20 the previous year, the global increase was primarily driven by killings in non-conflict countries. This number almost doubled from 35 cases in 2021 to 61 in 2022, representing three-quarters of all killings last year.
Some of the reasons why the journalists were killed were due to reprisals for their reporting on organized crime, armed conflict or the rise of extremism. Others were killed for covering sensitive topics such as corruption, environmental crime, abuse of power and protests.
The UNESCO report states that approximately 85 percent of the world’s population experienced a decline in press freedom in their country Over the past five years. Even in countries with long traditions of safeguarding free and independent journalism, financial and technological transformations forced news outlets, especially those serving local communities, to close. With readership and advertising markets moving online, advertising revenue for newspapers plummeted by nearly half in the ten-year period ending in 2019. The subsequent COVID-19 pandemic and its global economic impact have exacerbated this trend, now threatening to create an “extinction level” event for independent journalism outlets, thye UNESCO said.
NEW LAWS AND POLICIES RESTRICT FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION ONLINE
In the report, UNESCO points out to dozens of laws adopted or amended since 2016 that contain overly vague language or disproportionate punishments that threaten online freedom of expression. Additionally, in the last five years, government requests for content removal on major internet platforms have doubled.
TRADITIONAL BUSINESS MODELS IN GRAVE DANGER
With audiences and revenue continuing to move online, the report states that placing news media’s traditional business models are in grave danger. The number of social media users worldwide leapt from 2.3 billion in 2016 to 4.2 billion in 2021, and advertising revenues shifted rapidly towards internet companies and away from news outlets.
Women continue to be under-represented at leadership levels in news organizations and on “hard news” beats like politics, while both qualitative and quantitative studies suggest persistent biases in women’s representation in the news and the marginalization of women as expert sources. During the COVID-19 pandemic, only 27 percent of health specialists quoted in the media were women, despite the fact that women make up approximately half of health specialists worldwide.
MIS- AND DISINFORMATION
The growing challenge of false and misleading content was brought into sharp relief during the COVID-19 pandemic, so much so as to be dubbed a “disinfodemic.” At the same time, according to several reports, trust in media and information sources has continued to decline over the past five years, the report said.
The report states that 73 percent of women journalists responding to a survey by UNESCO and the International Center for Journalists had experienced online violence in the course of their work.
HEALTH OF THE NEWS SYSTEM
The health of news system on issues like ownership, pluralism, independence, and viability often remains a black box in countries where journalism is at a high risk. Using data to inform policies and solutions must first overcome significant gaps in availability, accessibility, utilization, and stability, it said.
The impact of the pandemic worsened the already fragile viability of news outlets, which collectively constitute a pluralistic and independent media sector. New policies and measures are urgently needed to ensure that journalism can continue to function as a public good—these include public financing for trusted news outlets, enhanced support for genuine public service media, and a redoubling of donor aid and philanthropic investments in news production
The declaration is considered a roadmap for the future outlining principles that were endorsed by UNESCO Member States in 2021. The Declaration calls attention to the ongoing value to democracy and sustainable development of free, pluralistic, and independent media where journalists can work in safety. It further signals the urgent importance of securing economic viability for news, transparency of internet companies, and increasing media and information competencies amongst the public
The World Trends in Freedom of Expression and Media Development series analyses trends in media freedom, pluralism, independence, and the safety of journalists. The Global Report, published every four years since 2014, provides a macro-level perspective that informs UNESCO Member States, international organizations, civil society groups, academia, and individuals seeking to understand the changing global media landscape. Issue briefs and other publications in the World Trends Report series offer additional insights into new and evolving challenges in the field of freedom of expression and media development.