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UN Security Council holds open debate on protecting journalists in conflict zones

July 19, 2013
Copyright: Chris Hondros in the field. Provided by A Day Without News

Copyright: Chris Hondros in the field. Provided by A Day Without News

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The UN Security Council held an open debate yesterday regarding the protection of journalists in conflict zones, amid an escalation in attacks against journalists around the world.

Speakers from more than 30 countries were joined by journalists in discussing the issue, with the majority stressing the need for greater protection and a truer delineation of what makes a professional journalist.

“Every time a journalist is killed by extremists, drug cartels or even government forces, there is one less voice to speak on behalf of the victims of conflict, crime and human rights abuses,” deputy secretary-general Jan Eliasson told the chamber in the opening remarks, detailing how 600 journalists had been killed in the last decade.

“Every journalist murdered or intimidated into silence is one less observer of efforts to uphold rights and ensure human dignity,” he said.

Mustafa Haji Abdinur, a Somalian reporter for Agence France-Presse, and Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, an Iraqi foreign correspondent for the Guardian, spoke alongside Kathleen Carroll, senior vice-president and executive editor of the Associated Press and vice-chair of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), and NBC’s Richard Engel in telling delegates of their work with and experience of attacks on journalists.

As a community of professionals we should be doing something at grassroots level to raise awareness of journalism in conflict zones
Aidan Sullivan, vice president of photo assignment at Getty Images and founder of A Day Without News?
Abdinur said he was often described as a “dead man walking” in his home country, while Abdul-Ahad and Engel have both been imprisoned or kidnapped while working in conflict zones in the Middle East and North Africa. Since 2006, 108 journalists have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan and last year 41 journalists were killed in Syria alone.

“Without a free press, there can be no freedom for a country,” Abdinur said, adding that when a journalist is killed, “the news dies too”.

State media buildings and communications infrastructure have traditionally been considered legitimate targets for military objectives but UN Resolution 1738, passed in 2006, condemned intentional attacks on journalists, defining them as civilians “provided that they take no action adversely affecting their status as civilians”.

Engel said in Syria many rebels carried cameras and called themselves journalists but were in fact part of the fight and would not criticise their own cause. In order to protect journalists it would first be necessary to define a journalist, he said, and while many activists report events via Twitter that is not what fully constitutes journalism.

“Just because one uses Twitter does not necessarily mean they are a journalist,” he said, emphasising how many governments and tyrants were comfortable with the ambiguity but that making a clear distinction and giving professional journalists protection and immunity was vital.

The idea of giving journalists “special status” was echoed by Aidan Sullivan, vice president of photo assignment at Getty Images and founder of A Day Without News? (ADWN), a campaign group which heavily influenced the decision to hold an open debate at the UN.

“Our job after this is to lobby the member states that clearly feel strongly about this,” Sullivan told Journalism.co.uk, explaining that their next aim would be to have Resolution 1738 re-worded and strengthened. Read the rest at Journalism.co.uk.

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