World Press Freedom Day-Statement by the Deputy Permanent Representative, Mr. Dimitris Caramitsos-Tziras after the screening of the film 'Which way is the front line from here: The life and time of Tim Hetherington'
I’m sure you will agree with me that director Sebastian Junger has given us an artistic and at the same time realistic image of what really is reporting from the front-line in the 21st century. I wish to thank him and all the other contributors of this documentary for offering us this opportunity.
After such a compelling documentary, one equally compelling question comes to mind: Seeing the conditions under which journalists and media professionals work and realizing the risks that they face, in their effort to keep us informed, what do we do or what can we do to help them in their work and how we can avoid having more victims from Media operatives in conflict situations.
Following the work and life commitment of Tim Hetherington in reporting people’s lives in extreme situations, makes it obvious that he was a talented photographer, focusing on people’s realities. It was his interest in documenting and reporting, which led him around the world’s troubled spots. As we witnessed, he risked, and ultimately gave, his life in order to capture the actions of young men in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan and, finally, Libya.
Driven by the same urge to inform and document, Chris Hondros, an acclaimed photojournalist, born in New York City from immigrant parents from Greece and Germany, and he had been covering some of the world’s major conflicts since the late 1990s, including wars in Kosovo, Angola, Sierra Leone, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Kashmir, Iraq and Liberia, also gave his life in the line of duty, also in Libya.
In recent years, more and more journalists’ lives are lost while reporting in dangerous situations, yet few of these deaths is thoroughly investigated and their perpetrators punished. Hence, this situation makes the work of the United Nations in ensuring the safety of journalists necessary and urgent.
Until recently, Security Council Resolution 1738, initiated by Greece and France, along with the rules of International Humanitarian Law was the only international legal instruments available for the protection of journalists. Since April 2012, the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity has been added to the tools we have for the prevention of violence against journalists. The said Plan of Action, the pilot implementation of which is under way, aims at creating a free and safe environment for journalists and media workers, both in conflict and non-conflict situations, with a view to strengthening peace, democracy and development worldwide. Its provisions include the establishment of a coordinated inter-agency mechanism to handle issues related to the safety of journalists, as well as assisting countries to develop legislation and mechanisms favorable to freedom of expression and information, and supporting their efforts to implement existing international rules and principles. It also calls for enhancing protection for women journalists in response to the increasing occurrence of sexual harassment and rape, decriminalizing defamation offences and encouraging adequate remuneration for full-time and freelance employees.
As it was rightly highlighted in a side event organized by UNESCO, Costa Rica and Austria in March, during the 57th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women, the protection of women journalists against targeted attacks is an emerging issue that needs immediate attention. In 2011, there has been an increase of 33% of violence against women journalists. In line with this, the issue of ending gender stereotypes in the media and elsewhere needs to be timely and urgently addressed as well. Human Rights Council Resolution 21/13, initiated by Austria, recognizes, among other, the risks faced by women journalists when carrying out their work and underlines the importance of taking a gender-sensitive approach when considering measures to address the safety of journalists.
Along with these efforts, civil society has dedicated and focused its work on the protection of journalists and the prevention of violence against them. One of the NGOs dealing with the issue is here with us today; RISC – Reporters Instructed in Saving Colleagues, which is dedicated to promoting the safety of freelance journalists in combat zones. Freelancers account for the majority of war covering journalists and, in the same time, for the biggest part of deaths and injuries. RISC’s effort focus to prevent future losses by teaching to freelancers the basic urgent aids in order to save someone’s life in the battlefield. Surviving a gunshot or shrapnel wound is often a matter of following the right procedures in the first few minutes and that brief, critical period of time is the priority of RISC’s training. But I will leave it up to the representative of the NGO who is here with us today to elaborate more on their work.
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, in 2012 70 journalists have lost their lives while on duty. If we count the media workers and bloggers, we reach the number of 100 people worldwide. In 2013, although being in the first half of the year, 15 deaths have already been confirmed. These figures emphasize the urgent need for action, including through the implementation of all the legal instruments concerning the protection of civilians, along with the implementation of the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity.
We may have lost Tim and Chris, but there are more of their colleagues out there trying to be messengers of a revolting reality. Our duty is to protect them, and I hope that today’s event and discussion will significantly contribute to this.