Global Journalists Call for Governments to Act As Media Killings Cast Shadow over Human Rights Day

The International Federation of Journalists today marked International Human Rights Day with a new call for governments to take urgent action to defend journalists and media staff whose rights have been routinely violated in a year that threatens to be the worst on record for the number of reporters and media staff killed.

“On this international human rights day journalists and media staff have little to celebrate,” said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary. “With more than 100 deaths, including targeted assassinations, and with growing evidence of callous disregard of media rights by governments, 2004 is a turning into a year of brutality and abuse.”

The IFJ has recorded 120 deaths so far this year. Many of the killings have been in Iraq, where 67 have died since the invasion of the country last year. One of the most dangerous regions this year has been the Philippines where 12 journalists have been murdered. In all 61 journalists have been killed since 1985, but not one of the killers has been brought to justice.

“The culture of impunity in the killing of media staff is a cruel fact of life for media in the Phillippines,” said White. “On International Human Rights Day journalists we restate forcefully our call for justice.”

The IFJ says that the human rights successes of 2004 – such as the negotiated release of Indonesian hostage Fery Santoro, working for the television network RCTI – have been overshadowed by tragic stories of human rights abuses.

In Iraq - two French journalists remain in captivity after being taken hostage 113 days ago. Meanwhile, the Iraqi authorities have banned media they don’t like, in particular the satellite channel Al-Jazeera, and the US has failed to provide satisfactory reports on the killing of media people at the hands of coalition troops

In Israel and Palestine – there have been continued attacks on journalists in this particular area, where Palestinian journalists are denied freedom of movement and the IFJ has been forced to open a safety centre on the west Bank.

In Burma – the Burma Media Association hailed the release of Ko Sein Ohn after eight years in prison, but the Associaton noted that he was only one of Burma's 13 imprisoned journalists to have been freed despite the military junta's promises to free them all.

In Eritrea - at least 13 journalists are still imprisoned, there is no private press and the IFJ, with the Swedish union of journalists, continues to campaign for the release of Dawit Issac who has been in jail for 1174 days

In Zimbabwe – media are still continued hail of attacks on free press by the government of Robert Mugabe which the IFJ says deserves its reputation as “one of the worst violators of press freedom, in contradiction with its international commitments”.

In Colombia - violence against journalists and unionists is rampant. One reporter, Claudia Julieta Duque, has been forced to flee the country as a result of repeated threats to her life.

In Ukraine – media and journalists were thrust into the front-line of the election crisis when they rebelled against attempts to manipulate the media and impose censorship. Meanwhile the case of Gyorgy Gongadze, brutally murdered more than three years ago, awaits further investigation.

These are only a few of the problem regions, says the IFJ. “The media rights crisis is a daily reality of working journalism and the international community must take urgent action,” said White. “In particular, they must isolate governments and quarantine the enemies of free journalism.”

The IFJ and other media industry groups have responded to the on-going crisis by establishing the International News Safety Institute which is working to promote a culture of safety in journalism. Last month the INSI announced a new inquiry into the scope of international law and its capacity to protect journalists and media staff.

“The Institute provides a real opportunity for governments to demonstrate that they mean what they say when they talk about easing the safety crisis facing media in conflict zones,” said White. “There is now an industry-based mechanism to reduce the risks facing local media, all we need is for governments and United Nations agencies to use it.”

The IFJ says that practical actions focused on the needs of local journalists working in areas of conflict is needed, as a minimum, to restore confidence that the authorities genuinely care about human rights and democracy.

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The IFJ represents over 500,000 journalists in more than 110 countries