The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) in partnership with UNESCO’s Office in Beirut and in collaboration with the Directorate of Higher Education at the Lebanese Education Ministry, ran a regional conference on 15-16 February in Beirut, Lebanon to discuss a “Model university course on the Safety of Journalists”.
The conference aimed to create an enabling environment for future journalists, allowing them to cover news in a safer and more professional way, taking into consideration the local contexts, as well as international standards in place. It also served to update journalism curricula in universities, through adapting and integrating different components of the new safety course.
The conference was attended by more than 40 participants representing universities in Lebanon and selected Arab countries (Syria, Jordan, Iraq, Palestine, Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco and Oman). Diplomats, government officials, media professionals, as well as international experts from UNESCO and IFJ attended the event.
The world is becoming more dangerous for journalists,” said IFJ President Jim Boumelha. “Around 2,300 journalists were killed in the past 25 years; an average of two journalists per week,” said Boumelha, pointing at the Arab countries as the most dangerous zones for journalists, with a particular focus on Iraq and Syria. The IFJ president addressed the issue of impunity and its dangerous implications. “Massacres committed against journalists are going unnoticed,” he said. “Students must understand the risks related to journalism. They must be taught to keep safe when covering news in conflict areas and natural disasters,” added Boumelha, considering that “academia is an essential part of the journalism body.”
Ms. Sylvie Coudray, Chief of the Freedom of Expression section in UNESCO Paris, highlighted the ongoing international responses in the safety field , including the UN Inter-Agency Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity, led by UNESCO. “The action plan represents a tangible step forward, and builds on previous UNESCO achievements in this field. However, amid this progress, much more is still needed”, said Ms. Coudray.
The training course comes within both UNESCO and IFJ mandates to promote freedom of expression, safety of journalists, support of independent and pluralistic media and universal access to information. It is also aligned with the UN Inter-Agency Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity led by UNESCO, building upon and contributing to UNESCO efforts dedicated to prevent and denounce crimes against media professionals.
Attacks and crimes committed against media professionals reached alarming levels during the past years, creating a climate of fear and insecurity. Many journalists were threatened, attacked and even killed for various reasons, including their political affiliation. In addition, media representatives always express their concerns over personal safety as the strongest challenge to carrying out their professional duties. Along with these politically motivated safety concerns, journalists who are covering events in the field are also reporting an increase in the number of direct attacks against them on the street. Many have been subject to violence while covering major incidents, such as protests and demonstrations. Wars and armed conflicts represent another major threat to journalists. Both media personnel as well as the institutions were target to attacks, killings as well as intentional destruction.
Realizing the significance of developing a comprehensive response to counter this situation, UNESCO and IFJ are working towards a more active involvement of related academic and training institutions. Universities and media faculties are requested to play a more constructive role in rectifying the current dangerous situation, through taking action in two particular fields:
1) Updating their curricula: In most of universities, media curricula do not include any courses about safety. Students are not aware of their rights and obligations, which renders them unprotected in face of violations committed against them. Hence, universities should work towards including safety courses in related media studies.
2) Capacity building on safety considerations: During their university studies, media students don’t receive any practical training on safety. Universities are invited to develop special field trainings on safety measures to be taken by journalists to protect themselves in times of emergencies.
For more information, please contact IFJ on + 32 2 235 22 16
The IFJ represents more than 600,000 journalists in 139 countries