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The Rights Track Sound evidence on human rights

Freedom of the press: how do we protect the rights of journalists?


In Episode 2 of Series 2, Todd talks to Elisabeth Witchell, Impunity Campaign Consultant with the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) about the human rights issues associated with being a journalist and the work of the Committee in defending those rights. The discussion focuses on the Committee’s use of the Global Impunity Index, which spotlights countries where journalists are murdered and their killers go free and which is used as evidence to lobby for justice and change.

Apologies for the occasional poor quality of the audio in this episode.

00.00-5.05

  • Todd asks Elisabeth just how dangerous it is in certain parts of the world to be a journalist - Elisabeth says a ‘startlingly high’ number of journalists are not just killed but targeted, harrassed and murdered whilst doing their job.
  • Elisabeth explains that in countries like Mexico, many journalists will not cover certain stories or topics because they are too afraid to do so.
  • Elisabeth explains the CPJ’s Global Impunity Index 2016 which has identified 13 countries which account for 80 percent of the unsolved murders that took place worldwide during the 10-year period ending August 31, 2016.
  • Todd asks about the rationale behind the Index/how it works etc. and about people who disappear

05.05-08.00

  • Todd asks about the effect that a ‘climate of fear’ creates among journalists/self-censorship etc.
  • Elisabeth gives some examples of how self-censorship impacts in dangerous areas
  • A brief discussion of how citizen journalism can work and the risks associated with it compared with more traditional journalism

08.11- 11.30

  • A discussion and explanation of the circumstances in which a journalist might be attacked and of the sorts of people/organisations behind the killings
  • Further discussion about the types of stories a journalist might want to cover but might lead to them becoming a target
  • Elisabeth gives a number of examples of the types of cases she comes across
  • Balancing the desire to cover controversial stories and the risks journalists are prepared to take to shine a spotlight on an issue or controversy

11.30-17.40

  • How the CPJ advocates on behalf of those who have been killed and tries to achieve justice for their families
  • CPJ’s work with other international and local organisations to try to achieve prosecutions and ultimately prevent murders of journalists
  • Elisabeth refers to the UN Plan of Action and the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists
  • Elisabeth says the ultimate aim is to encourage countries to investigate and prosecute cases if it is not happening at a local/regional level
  • What do trends show about how bad things are for journalists now compared with before?
  • Discussion of what it means to be an “embedded journalist” and what the challenges/issues associated with that are

17.40-end

  • Achievements for CPJ include increased prosecutions and convictions on the ground
  • Also CPJ’s work on getting journalists released from prison
  • Elisabeth mentions the ACOS Alliance working to achieve a culture of safety for freelance journalists

Further information

CPJ has new data for 2016 - and since our interview with Elisabeth has published reports on journalists imprisoned and journalists killed. In the latter report on killed journalists, CPJ found the rate of journalists murdered to be down significantly for 2016. Althpugh the committee says it is a welcome development, it points out that it can also indicate that that in certain environments where there has been routine violence against the press, those media communities are now cautious or censored in other ways.

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