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"The killer of Nils Horner must be caught and brought to trial"

Publicerat måndag 3 november 2014 kl 09.43
On March 11th Swedish Radio's foreign correspondent Nils Horner was murdered in Afghanistan. Cilla Benkö, DG of Swedish Radio, thinks the Swedish government has to take responsibility and put pressure on Afghan authorities so that justice may be done. PHOTO: Mattias Ahlm/SR

Nils Horner, one of Sweden's most well-known and respected foreign correspondents, was shot and killed on assignment on 11th March this year in Kabul, Afghanistan.
   He had worked for many years for Swedish Radio which is the media house in Sweden which places the largest effort in Swedish media in covering foreign matters through its network of 21 correspondent all over the world.
   Cilla Benkö is Director General of Swedish Radio.

For me it is extremely important that the killer of Nils Horner is caught and brought to trial. Wherever such a crime is committed - it should not be possible to kill a journalist without consequences. When journalists are threatened, abducted, hurt, wounded and in extreme cases killed, it is an attack against the rule of law and freedom of speech and thereby also against democracy.

I no longer believe that the killing of Nils Horner will ever be solved, or that the guilty will be brought to justice. The prosecutor here in Sweden seems resigned to say the least. The assistance which was promised from Kabul has not been provided. The Afghan authorities are not particularly active when it comes to solving a murder case involving a foreign correspondent.
   This is something worth reflecting on. According to INSI statistics, 96 journalists or media workers have been killed on assignment this far 2014. The latest was a citizen journalist murdered in Tamaulipas, Mexico. In a world which is becoming ever more challenging and difficult to cover, it is essential that we, in the traditional media houses do not fear and cave in. We must show that foreign coverage matters and is highly prioritized

Unfortunately, it is more of a norm than an exception that the killing of Nils Horner appears not to be solved. A report from UNESCO, as yet unpublished, indicates that of 593 journalists killed during 2006-2014, little more than 6 percent have been solved. The overwhelming majority of these close to 600 journalists were men. More than 90% were local journalists.
   It is clearly not enough that media houses take the responsibility and invest in foreign coverage, or that a large amount of local journalists actually risk their lives in their daily work defending freedom of expression. Politicians and the systems of justice all over the world must also make their contribution, by actively stating their position and defending the rights of journalists to work in their profession.

It is shameful that so little is done to safeguard the working conditions of journalists. UNESCO's report indicates that it especially in the Arab world and many countries in Africa is frighteningly common with a very low rate of solving cases of killed journalists. The figure is between 1 and 3 percent. Compared to approximately 40 percent in Europe. But even there a majority of the cases remain unsolved.
   There ought to be more than enough reasons for politicians in well functioning democracies to challenge these truly lamentable percentages and work towards finding ways of improving them.

I would like to challenge and urge governments all round Europe to act! Not the least the new Government of Sweden which has set up Democracy, Culture and Media issues in one and the same Ministry, under a Minister of Culture and Democracy. This is a weighty commitment. Journalists who do not have to fear, and who can work without risking being silenced are fundamental for a functioning democracy. I think that it is time to link the Swedish International Aid to this important issue. Swedish Aid can support the establishment of a free press and a strong Public Service in the identified countries. Swedish politicians should ask about the conditions for freedom of speech and the freedom of the press in countries they visit.

It is vital that the new Swedish Government gets involved in the "Nils Horner Case" and exerts pressure upon the Afghan authorities in the interest of justice. My hope is, of course, that the horrifying numbers of killed journalists are brought down radically, and that much more than 6 percent of this year's close to 100 cases will be solved. Nils Horner must not become yet another number in these dismal statistics. This is important for us, for freedom of expression and also for democracy as such.

This text was also published in The Guardian, Sunday 2 november

Cilla Benkö
DG Swedish Radio
Member of the Executive Board of the European Broadcasting Union, EBU
twitter.com/CillaBenko

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