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How To Keep Journalists Safe

  • Eva Nenicka

Mourners light candles next to a portrait of Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya during a rally in St. Petersburg, Russia on October 8, 2006. She was assassinated on the previous day, in the lift of her apartment building. REUTERS/Alexander Demianchuk

Governments bear the fundamental responsibility to ensure that journalists are free to practice their profession without interference.

Governments bear the fundamental responsibility to ensure that journalists are free to practice their profession without interference or reprisal by state authorities. This includes participating states of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, known as the OSCE.

U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor Thomas Melia recently addressed a Conference on Journalists' Safety in the OSCE region. He said restrictive laws and administrative measures constrain independent media outlets and the fundamental freedom of expression. He cautioned that journalists are at risk when a culture of impunity prevails for violence or harassment committed against them simply for doing their jobs, and this adversely impacts the health of society.

There are several areas where OSCE participating states must take action, said Mr. Melia. First, countries need to live up to their commitments to support, foster, and promote media freedom.

Second, all governments have a responsibility to investigate and prosecute violence against journalists, whether the suspected perpetrators are to be found inside or outside of government. When cases of violence against journalists languish, when justice is denied for the killing or beating of a journalist just because authorities do not like what he or she says, the rule of law that is necessary for modern societies to function successfully is undermined. "Impunity," said Mr. Melia, "must end."

The U.S. welcomed the news from Russia that the suspected triggerman in the 2006 murder case of journalist Anna Politkovskaya had been apprehended. The U.S. calls on Russia to take further steps towards addressing the problem of impunity for those who attack journalists, and will continue to raise other unsolved cases.

Finally, all governments have a responsibility to ensure a public, political climate that is conducive to the functioning of independent, pluralistic media. Condemning violence against journalists and prosecuting its perpetrators is one key way to create such a climate. Our governments need to do much more than apprehend murderers of journalists; we need to treat journalists as vital partners in public service.

"The role of the media," said Deputy Assistant Secretary Melia, "is indispensable for illuminating facts, exposing abuses so that they may be corrected, explaining perspectives, and generating public momentum behind deserving policies. We need to commend the work of journalists in the effective governance and development of our societies, not constrain it.

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