PARIS: World media executives are urging governments to stop looking at journalists as the enemy, and to better protect reporters covering wars, crime and corruption.

Describing growing impunity for those who arrest or attack journalists, news leaders meeting here on Friday argued for more public outcry and pressure on governments when a reporter is targeted -- whether in a war zone or in peacetime.

Freelancers were under extra risk, they warned, especially local reporters in countries where journalists had little recourse against violence or government pressure.

“Whether by murder, violence, arrest or intimidation, the crimes taking place against journalists have become far too common. In fact, they’ve become normalised,” John Daniszewski of The Associated Press said at a conference on journalists’ safety at the headquarters of Unesco.

The CNN’s special correspondent Christiane Amanpour urged Unesco’s member governments to uphold freedom of expression.

“It’s time for all of our leaders to stop looking at us as the enemy,” she said. “Then we can deal with the bad guys.”

In the past 25 years, at least 2,297 journalists and media staff have been killed, according to a new report from the International Federation of Journalists.

Last year, 112 journalists were killed around the world, and last month seven media workers were killed in a suicide car bomb attack in Kabul.

Diane Foley, whose son James was kidnapped while working as a freelancer in Syria and beheaded by men of the militant Islamic State group, described feeling alone in fighting for his freedom, and decried the use of freelancers as what she called “cannon fodder”.

Major news organisations, struggling to cover Syria’s civil war safely and trying to keep up with fast evolution in the industry, described new efforts to ensure protection of freelancers.

Among them are projects to share information about security in conflict zones and to create insurance options for international and local stringers.

Mr Daniszewski stressed that what The AP and other media organisations were doing to help freelancers “is not enough”.

“We need to recommit governments to the importance of free media. Because it’s slipping away,” he said.

He also urged media organisations to not shy away from reporting on colleagues who were attacked or abused.

“Every day, in every part of the world, some journalist somewhere is being harassed, or put in prison, or injured,” he said.

Published in Dawn, February 6th, 2016

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