The International Federation of Journalists and a number of other press freedom and human rights groups today launched a new global initiative aimed at reinforcing international efforts to make journalism safer around the world.
After two days of debate in Geneva a meeting called to discuss whether or not there should be a new international convention to protect journalists, a declaration was adopted outlining a series of urgent objectives including an end to impunity for those who attack journalists and a new mechanism for the systematic investigation of killings of journalists and media staff.
"The world of journalism cannot wait for long-winded debates over new laws and ideas about whether journalists need an internationally recognised emblem to protect them," said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary in Geneva. "We need action now. We need governments to abide by international law and we need the killers of media staff brought to justice."
The meeting, organised by the Press Emblem Campaign, a coalition of groups that seek the adoption of an international emblem for journalists -- similar to the Red Cross and Red Crescent symbols used by humanitarian aid workers -- finally adopted a declaration that gives priority to immediate steps to improve protection for media staff.
It was agreed to set up an international committee of experts to examine in detail the legal and professional priorities for improving safety and security in journalism while looking again at the possible need for a new international convention and an emblem.
"We reached an important agreement that gives us an opportunity to work together on strategies that will involve media organisations, journalists' groups and colleagues from every region of the world," said White. "We agreed that the current level of attacks on journalism and the media is intolerable and we must hold governments to account where they are failing in their responsibilities."
The meeting agreed that existing international legal provisions provide protection for journalists and other civilians, but many governments, even some of those from democratic countries, have been woefully negligent. "Journalists and media staff are sometimes simply forgotten when it comes to the international community´s concern for civilians caught in conflict," said White, referring to the adoption of resolution 1502 by the United Nations Security Council last year which called for member states to reinforce protection for humanitarian aid workers in war zones.
The meeting agreed to ask the International News Safety Institute to play a leading role in co-ordinating the preparation of a report on steps needed to improve protection of journalists. "This is a process that must involve media organisations and all journalists," said White. "A good start has been made, but we have to move forward with a sense of urgency that reflects the current emergency that faces media staff in conflict zones and other hostile areas."
The meeting took up an invitation from the United Arab Emirates Syndicate of Journalists to hold a further meeting and this will be held early in 2005.
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The IFJ represents over 500,000 journalists in more than 100 countries