A great threat to media freedom
By Alison Bethel McKenzie, IPI Executive Director
The International Press Institute (IPI), the world’s oldest global media freedom organization, is pleased to mark 15 years since the establishment of the Office of the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, the world’s only inter-governmental media watchdog.
IPI was one of a handful of non-governmental media freedom organizations that participated in the 1997 dialogue that led to the creation of the position and its mandate. That mandate – to strengthen the observance of freedom of expression and freedom of the media in participating OSCE states – is today as important as ever, perhaps nowhere more so than when it comes to journalists’ safety.
Of the many threats to media freedom, violent attacks on journalists and the impunity with which those crimes are too often met are the gravest. Those who threaten or attack journalists seek to silence them through intimidation. By ruthlessly censoring journalists and promoting self-censorship, they strike directly at the foundation of democracy, depriving the electorate of the ability to make informed decisions and ensure accountability.
According to IPI’s Death Watch, approximately 1,325 journalists have died around the world in connection with their work since 1997, when IPI began its count. That number, which recently has increased by greater numbers each succeeding year, includes 159 journalists in participating OSCE states, including three who died so far in 2013 in Russia as the result of violent attacks.
It does not, however, include the many other assaults on journalists across the world and throughout the OSCE region, or the even more numerous threats too many journalists face as they do their jobs. In the last 12 months alone, OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Dunja Mijatović has spoken out against threats or attacks on journalists in countries within the OSCE region, including Bulgaria, Azerbaijan, Turkey, Kazakhstan, Montenegro, Ukraine, Germany, Kosovo, Greece, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Italy, Northern Ireland and Serbia. IPI is proud of Mijatović and her staff’s unwavering commitment, and the force with which Mijatović addresses each issue in each country on behalf of journalists and the people’s right to know.
Non-governmental organizations like IPI work with actors like journalists and members of civil society to do our part to combat these violations and to promote freedom of expression. But every international accord addressing journalists’ safety puts the impetus for action directly on governments. Unlike the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, the work of the world’s other freedom of expression/press freedom rapporteurs’ depends on each individual’s particular skills in raising the necessary funds to carry it out his or her mandate and on the will of states to accept their scrutiny.
The dedicated and institutionalized nature of the OSCE Representative’s role in monitoring relevant media developments in the region and assisting participating states in implementing their media freedom commitments, including ensuring journalists’ safety, therefore creates a powerful structure to effect meaningful change. As such, the Office of the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media plays an invaluable role, one that IPI hopes it will continue to perform for many years into the future.