Journalists Call on UN for Special Representative

     MANHATTAN (CN) – Advocates for journalists’ safety demanded political weight within the United Nations at a summit Friday during the 71st Session of UN General Assembly.
     Reporters Without Borders co-hosted the event with the Committee to Protect Journalists at the New York City press room of the United Nations Correspondents Association.
     Their campaign, #ProtectJournalists, aims to appoint a special representative to the United Nations secretary-general for the safety of journalists. The initiative boasts the endorsements of more than 100 nongovernmental and media organizations.
     During his brief opening remarks, Joel Simon, executive director for the Committee to Protect Journalists, emphasized that journalists’ freedom of expression, though “central to humanity,” is “under siege.”
     Christophe Deloire, the secretary general of Reporters Without Borders, said more than 800 journalists have been killed in the last 10 years and pushed for action to “no longer let journalists get killed due to lack of political will.”
     The diverse panel of six journalists congratulated each others’ courageousness for covering news in some of the deadliest regions in the world.
     Sudanese journalist Faisal Salih was unable to attend in person because of visa issues but the panel played video footage of the Teeba Press director offering his support for the campaign.
     Salih called South Sudan “one of the most dangerous places in the world for journalists.”
     Exiled Pakistani journalist Raza Rumi spoke on behalf of the threats to journalists in South Asia, including in India, which he cited as the largest democracy in the world, where journalists have been killed recently for exposing political corruption.
     Rumi condemned corrupt governments as well as the United Nation’s slow response to the killing and intimidation of journalists, saying the global organization needs a mechanism to react quickly.
     Rumi also led the panel discussion among the journalists.
     Syrian journalist and human rights activist Yara Bader described the current situation of journalists’ safety as having “never been worse than today.” According research done by the Committee to Protect Journalists, Syria has been the most deadly country for journalists every year from 2012 to the present. Bader’s husband, lawyer and free-speech advocate Mazen Darwish, was arrested by the Syrian government in 2012 and detained for three years and subjected to torture and mistreatment.
     Bader spoke about years of violence against journalists going unchecked politically in Syria before the 2014 beheading of American war correspondent James Foley provoked a military and political response.
     Dunja Mijatovic, media freedom representative for the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, said journalists need a special UN representative to provide a rapid response to killing, intimidation and harassment of journalists.
     Mijatovic described how countries who prosecute journalists and don’t prevent impunity cause a “chilling effect” on journalists, limiting freedom of expression.
     Mexican investigative journalist Maria Idalia Gomez made an effort to describe the complicated dynamics in Mexico between the overlapping worlds of the drug cartels and the weakened, if not also corrupt government powers. Gomez explained that fear and compromise causes some journalists in Mexico to ignore news, saying self-censorship is a form of self-protection kidnapping. Gomez elaborated that the deep entrenchment of political corruption goes unchecked in Mexico because there is a lack of scrutiny from journalists. She explained that this pattern pervasive corruption, fear and self-censorship extends throughout much of Latin America.
     Ambassador Elbio Rosselli, permanent representative of Uruguay and president of the Security Council, attended the panel discussion and offered his support for the initiative to install a special representative for safety of journalists at the United Nations.
     When pressed by journalists in attendance to name examples of potential nominees for the special representative, the representatives from by Reporters Without Borders and the Committee to Protect Journalists stayed general, just citing their wishes to appoint someone with “political weight” who could exert influence within the United Nations.
     Joel Simon, the executive director for the Committee to Protect Journalists, said their effort faces more indifference than opposition.
     Reporters Without Borders provided a 143-page”Safety Guide for Journalists” handbook to the attendees of the panel.
     The panel mentioned the resolution potentially being adopted on Nov. 2, but United Nations Correspondents Association President Giampaolo Pioli closed out the event by recognizing the pace at which things are accomplished and mentioning his hopes that the effort will have made progress by the time the panel meets again one year from now.

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