Safety of journalists takes centre stage at Doha events

Journalists, academics and business leaders gather to discuss the future of the media.

Journalists under threat
In 2015, at least 71 reporters were killed and 199 were imprisoned, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists [Dai Kurokawa/EPA]

Doha, Qatar – The urgent need to protect journalists – and the future of their profession – will be the focus of two events in Doha this week.

The International Press Institute is holding its 65th annual gathering under the banner, ” Safety and Professionalism in A Dangerous World “, from March 19 to 21. The IPI was founded in 1950 to campaign for press freedom, and its members are active in more than 120 countries.

The Future of News and News Organisations  will be the subject of the 3rd World Media Summit gathering from March 20 to 21. The World Media Summit was founded by the Chinese news agency Xinhua in 2008 as a forum to discuss cooperation between media institutions. Beijing hosted the first Summit in 2009, and Moscow hosted the second summit in 2012.

Each year, journalists across the world are attacked for doing their work. Many are imprisoned; some are killed.

In the first few months of 2016, at least six have died in the line of duty, according to figures from the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists. Last year, at least 71 reporters were killed and 199 were imprisoned. For four years in a row, Syria has topped the list of most dangerous countries to be working in the media.

Continuing conflicts, censorship and acts of violence threaten the lives of journalists, and the perpetrators of killings, violence and intimidation often enjoy impunity.

QUIZ: What are the dangers facing journalists globally?

As countries differ in their responses to media freedom violations, the call for a unanimous, global response has intensified.

In May 2015, the UN Security Council adopted a resolution calling on members to create a safe environment “in law and practice” for media professionals.

Both of the conferences being held in Doha in the forthcoming days will discuss potential mechanisms to enforce protection. Al Jazeera Media Network is the official host of both events.

Press freedom advocates and journalists share their views on the state of their profession in 2016.

Jodie Ginsberg, chief executive, Index on Censorship

Journalists – and a free press – are fundamental to democracy because they enable the flow of facts that allow people to gain accurate information about a situation. Journalists’ protection is becoming increasingly important because, more and more, governments are using legislation intended to be used to target violent extremism and terrorism as a mechanism simply to silence anyone who is critical of the government.

Jodie Ginsberg 
Jodie Ginsberg 

International law does not provide many explicit carve-outs to protect journalists. However, journalists are protected by the same rights as any other civilians under the Geneva Conventions. The international community can help by ensuring it abides by these protocols, and, additionally, by ensuring that countries desist from using terror legislation to target journalists as we have seen happening in Egypt, Turkey and elsewhere. 

Media organisations have a high degree of responsibility towards all the journalists they employ – whether they are on staff or not – and we are encouraged that some international organisations are now signing up to a global set of principles to protect the freelance journalists they employ.

It is good that more focus is being placed on journalist safety: the reports to our Mapping Media Freedom project, which monitors media freedom violations in Europe and neighbouring countries, shows that violence against journalists is a growing problem in this region alone. The real question though – as ever – is whether governments and media organisations make good on any commitments for improving the situation.

Sherif Mansour, MENA programme coordinator, Committee to Protect Journalists

Egyptian journalists face unprecedented threats in current day Egypt . Egypt is one off the worst jailers of journalists worldwide. The country was holding at least 23 journalists behind bars because of their work in December, second only to China. Most are kept in prolonged trials under national security and anti-terrorism charges. Since January 1, four people have been sentenced for “publishing false news”, five others were referred to trial, and two others were detained.

Sherif Mansour
Sherif Mansour

The Egyptian government needs to stop its crackdown on independent voices and respect dissent. This can take the form of public comments, reversing the press vilification campaign, and legal amendments to take back laws and amendments that were heavily used to restrict the press, including the anti-terrorism law and the “anti-protest” laws. 

Egyptian civil society, including the Journalist Syndicate, and press freedom advocates, needs to stay vigilant.

Finally, the international community, including donor agencies, and foreign governments, need to keep press freedom on the agenda while discussing any investment opportunities or financial aid packages with Egyptian officials. 

WATCH: Egypt’s media – revolution and reality

As an Egyptian human rights and press freedom advocate, it pains me to see the rapid and massive deterioration in the Egyptian media. It also pains me how misinformed and blind-sided many of the people in Egypt are about the reality of the situation inside the country. 

After a small opening in 2011-2012, we had an unprecedented number of outlets which presented diverse opinions and carried national debates … Now, it is exactly the opposite. Most media is tightly controlled, with one voice. Most of the content is sensational. And most importantly, there are no real discussions or debates about important national interest issues, including fighting terrorism and economic solutions, let alone the human rights crisis.

Martin Schibbye, editor-in-chief, Blank Spot Project

Schibbye was arrested in Ethiopia in 2011 and sentenced to 11 years in jail for “aiding a rebel group” after entering the country with fighters from the Ogaden National Liberation Front. He was released in 2012.

I think we’re facing a hunting season on journalists and it’s only getting worse … One reason is that you have terrorist or rebel groups, they all have Twitter accounts or YouTube channels, and you have countries that have their own state propaganda. Every neutral observer, every objective journalist becomes a threat to all parts in today’s conflicts. That situation is new. We are facing the greatest challenge ever for reporting.

Martin Shibbye [Bertil Ericson/EPA]
Martin Shibbye [Bertil Ericson/EPA]

On top of this, there’s a new threat on the horizon which is the criminalisation of journalism in many countries.

In Ethiopia, I spent 14 months in jail for doing my job. The state suddenly decides that “this kind of journalism is not allowed”.

This development where the so-called war on terror has become a war on journalists in many countries.

Spending time in prison, of course, leaves a scar. The last thing the other prisoners told me is, “Please, tell the world what you have seen”. And I’ve been trying to keep that promise ever since.

The worst fear I had in prison myself was being forgotten, and I know how important it is to keep campaigning and advocating. For the imprisoned journalist, it’s really more important than food and water to have people campaigning for you and highlighting press freedom.

OPINION: Exceptions to the democratic rule

It’s on a political level now. Journalists are doing everything they can to stay safe. We’re taking courses, we’re doing everything we can to protect ourselves and our sources. But it doesn’t help, really, all the way. It needs to be addressed on the highest political level. I think it needs to be turned into a war crime to attack a journalist.

I think if the Geneva Conventions had been written today, the role of the journalist would have been more protected. We’re not protected the way Red Cross workers or diplomats are, and I think we ought to be.

I think it should be a war crime to attack a colleague.  I think politicians really need to raise the stakes when it comes to attacks on our colleagues.

Ramy Alasheq, editor of Abwab, a paper for refugees by refugees in Germany

I was imprisoned because I participated in a demonstration in 2011. The same day I left prison in Damascus, I wrote a story about what happened to me in jail. The militias with the Syrian regime tried to kill me because of my writing. They always try to attack people who are against the regime. When I was getting out of my car, they threw rocks at me. I had to force myself into hiding for over nine months and I was eventually forced to leave Syria.

Ramy Alasheq
Ramy Alasheq

A lot of people have been to prison in Syria and been hidden. Our friend Rami Jarrah was arrested in Turkey, and he had been covering the Russian bombing campaign in Syria. Journalists and activists are often taken hostage in the war. Everywhere there are journalists there are problems, and they are just on a mission to prove the truth.

I started Abwab in a similar vein. We are providing true stories of the Arab community here, from within Germany. We are giving necessary, important information to newcomers – how to deal with a new life in Germany.

It’s always important to protect journalists; without media and journalism we won’t have any information about the truth. Warlords want to fight anyone who is filming, trying to show the world what is going on.

READ MORE: Refugees in Germany launch newspaper for fellow newcomers

It’s necessary to have an organisation, something to officially protect journalists around the world. Now, there is nothing like this. There should be a global response to providing safety.

The murder mystery of Elvis Ordaniza

The story of a reporter killed last month in the Philippines is indicative of the challenges facing the protection of journalists.

Elvis Ordaniza’s family could not comment on record for security reasons.

It was past sunset on Tuesday, February 16, in the coastal town of Pitogo facing Moro Gulf, in the southern island of Mindanao. The town had a power cut so it was darker than usual. But it was time for Elvis Ordaniza, 49, to prepare dinner for his family. He stepped out to gather firewood. Elvis never made it back to the kitchen.

Two unidentified men barged into his home. One of them shot him twice in the chest with a .45-calibre pistol. Elvis’s family rushed him to the nearest clinic, where he was pronounced dead.

A source told Al Jazeera that he was targeted because of his work as a local radio reporter in the nearby city of Pagadian. The same source said that at least one police officer saw the suspects as they made their escape. The witness even reportedly claimed that the suspects were “wearing uniform”, although he stopped short of identifying them as government authorities.

Elvis was the first journalist to be killed in the Philippines this year. But since 2010, the start of President Benigno Aquino’s term, 31 journalists have been killed.  Aquino has been accused of turning a blind eye when it comes to journalists being murdered.

In August of last year, three journalists were killed in southern Philippines in two weeks. In Ozamis, four attackers killed radio commentator Cosme Maestrada as he walked in the city. He survived a previous attempt in November 2011.

A week earlier, a publisher and a radio announcer were killed just outside their homes. In 2009, 32 journalists were among 58 people killed in a politically motivated attack in Mindanao. That incident was the world’s deadliest single attack on journalists. More than six years on, the case remains in court and none of the suspects has been successfully prosecuted.

In Elvis’s case, investigators could only speculate about the motive. Some reports said it could be linked to his previous work as a communist fighter. Others said it was because of an expose he wrote about illegal drugs and gambling. Still, other reports said the muder could have been politically motivated as Elvis was linked to local politicians in the Zamboanga del Norte province.

Following his death, the National Union of Journalists for the Philippines demanded that authorities fulfil their duty of giving those who were killed justice.

The group said: “Whatever the reason for Ordaniza’s murder, one thing remains constant – it is government’s continued failure to prevent such killings and solve past cases (only a handful of killers have ever been convicted, none of them a mastermind) that emboldens those who would silence critical media.”

Interviews by Mohamed Hashem , Ted Regencia and Anealla Safdar Interactive by Alaa Batayneh .

Source: Al Jazeera