Journalists and media workers face growing politicization of their work and threats to their freedom to simply do their job, which are increasing day by day.
In recalling this deal on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day, the UN emphasizes, in a message from its Secretary-General, António Guterres, that the essential work they are doing, by bringing those in power accountable, in transparency, “often at the risk of their lives”.
For her part, Michelle Bachelet, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, paid a “special tribute” to those “who have little choice but to work in an increasingly marked by harassment, intimidation, surveillance and risk to their lives and livelihoods”.
“They do it for the good of all of us. So that we have access to free, accurate and independent information. So that we can live in just and peaceful societies. Their work helps lay the foundation for some of the basic human rights that we should all enjoy: freedom of opinion, information and expression,” she insisted.
On the front line of crises
For Guterres, “Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, many media workers have been on the front lines, providing accurate, science-based reporting to inform decision makers and save lives.”
“At the same time, journalists covering climate, biodiversity and pollution have succeeded in bringing global attention to this triple planetary crisis,” he said.
But threats to their freedom to report and tell stories fairly and accurately are increasing every day.
“From global health to the climate crisis, to corruption and human rights abuses, they face increased politicization of their work and attempts to silence them from all sides,” said explained António Guterres.
According to Michelle Bachelet, the number of journalists detained worldwide rose to 293 last year. “Legal proceedings are also increasingly used against investigative journalists to obstruct their work,” she said.
Killings of journalists also continue around the world. Although the number of reported killings of journalists fell last year to 55 deaths, impunity remains widespread: 87% of murders committed since 2006 remain unsolved, UNESCO said in a report.
Challenges of digital technology
Although “digital technology has democratized access to information, it has also created serious challenges,” said António Guterres.
For the Director-General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Audrey Azoulay, “the emergence of online platforms raises the question of the economic viability of independent and pluralistic media , and disrupts existing value chains and business models”.
The UN chief, meanwhile, noted that many social media platforms make their money not by improving access to fact-based reporting, but by driving engagement, “which often means provoke outrage, and spread lies”.
“Media workers in war zones are threatened not only by bombs and bullets, but also by the weapons of falsification and disinformation that accompany modern warfare. They can be attacked as an enemy, accused of espionage, detained or killed, simply for doing their job,” he said.
The digital age has thus amplified the risk of media professionals and their sources being targeted, harassed and attacked through various means, such as data retention, spyware and digital surveillance, indicated Ms. Azoulay.
Ms Bachelet explained that the growing use of surveillance tools – such as Pegasus or Candiru spyware – is intruding deeply into people’s devices and lives. “These tools are an affront to the right to privacy and an obstruction to freedom of expression,” she insisted.
“The use of spyware has led to arrests, intimidation and even murders of journalists. She endangered their sources. It put their families at risk,” she explained, noting that to counter these risks, journalists are often forced to take the dangerous path of self-censorship.
According to Ms. Bachelet, the Pegasus spyware is used in at least 45 countries, often in the greatest secrecy and outside any legal framework. “These new surveillance methods, which are rapidly evolving, present a large number of risks and challenges,” she warned.
According to the UN Secretary-General, digital technology has also made censorship easier for authoritarian governments and others, “who seek to suppress the truth, with many journalists and editors daily confronting the prospect of seeing their work taken offline”.
Women particularly at risk
A Malian woman journalist in the studio of Radio Guintan in Bamako, the capital of Mali
Digital technology also creates new channels of oppression and abuse, with women journalists being particularly vulnerable to online harassment and violence.
UNESCO found that nearly three-quarters of women surveyed had experienced online violence. Hacking and illegal surveillance also prevent journalists from carrying out their work.
“And since these technologies are rarely the subject of transparent regulations or accountability, the perpetrators of this violence act with total impunity, often leaving no trace”, lamented the head of UNESCO, Audrey Azoulay.
“The methods and tools change, but the goal of discrediting the media and concealing the truth remains the same” leading citizens who live in societies without free media to be “manipulated in horrible ways”, said for his part. the head of the UN.
Action plan on the safety of journalists
The UN Secretary General recalled that “without freedom of the press, there are no truly democratic societies. Without freedom of the press, there is no freedom”.
This must stop, called the Director-General of UNESCO. “Technological advances must be based on respect for the freedom, confidentiality and safety of journalists. Social media, in particular, must step up efforts to counter widespread misinformation and hate speech, while protecting freedom of expression.”
Respect for human rights is not only the duty of States, declared Michelle Bachelet. She encouraged private surveillance firms “to publicly affirm their responsibility to respect freedom of expression and privacy, conduct human rights due diligence and report transparently.” on their activities. And she insisted that this be done in regular consultation with civil society.
Ten years ago, the UN established an action plan on the safety of journalists, to protect media workers and end impunity for crimes committed against them, and the UN continues to fight to protect their rights.
Over the next 10 years and to reinvigorate the fight for the safety of journalists, freedom of expression and access to information for all, the Presidents of the United Nations General Assembly, the General Conference of UNESCO and the Human Rights Council called, in a joint statement, on Member States, the United Nations system, regional entities, civil society, the judiciary and all relevant actors to join forces to promote the goals of the United Nations Plan of Action.
“By working together to strengthen its implementation and achieve SDG target 16.10 (ensure public access to information), we can continue to create a safer and more conducive environment for journalists and media professionals. , and protect the right of every citizen to reliable and, often, life-saving information,” they concluded.