ISLAMABAD: On ‘Inter­­national Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists’ Une­sco has called for the protection of media persons during election duties.

The UN body has published new data highlighting the rise in violence against journalists during election periods. Accor­ding to numbers, between January 2019 and June 2022, Unesco documented 759 individual attacks against journalists, inclu­ding five killings, during 89 elections in 70 countries.

The report said in 2024, around 2.6. billion people will go to polls, and journalists will play a critical role in ensuring the public has access to accurate information as they prepare to cast their votes.

According to Unesco, 42 per cent of the 759 attacks during election periods were committed by security forces.

Govts around the globe urged to take protection measures

The report highlighted that these attacks included arbitrary arrests, beating, firing of rubber bullets, threats, intimidation and the confiscation of equipment.

During elections and demonstrations, government authorities block the public’s access to information by implementing internet blackouts and disruptions, censoring the media and critical voices, and digitally surveilling journalists.

The report has said during protests and election periods, police and security forces must protect these democratic rights and ensure a safe and orderly environment.

Dr Tawfik Jelassi, Unesco’s assistant director-general for Commun­ications and Information, said journalists must not be threatened, targeted with attacks or prevented from reporting freely at any time.

“We call on governments to take extra measures to protect journalists’ safety and to guarantee the right to freedom of expression and access to information, including during electoral periods.”

Similarly, the Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF) also emphasised the need for an “open, restriction-free and safe environment” for the media to cover the coming general elections.

“Journalists and media professionals in Pakistan must be able to cover the upcoming elections, including the pre-election period, without the fear of backlash in the form of violence or threats, the imposition of state-mandated restrictions, or legal measures to restrict free speech or target journalists,” the PPF said.

Separately, Volker Turk, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, has called journalism “crucial to human rights”, adding that investigative journalism helped ensure that institutions were transparent and responsive.

“Objective information enables people to make sound choices and participate meaningfully in decision-making, and the online and real-life media serve as watchdogs and early warning systems for the full range of potential human rights violations.”

He said this was the reason journalists so frequently became targets of threats, violence and even murder.

In a statement, the Committee for the Protection of Journalists (CPJ) said impunity in cases of murdered journalists deeply threatened press freedom.

Published in Dawn, November 3rd, 2023

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