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"Shameful that so little is done to safeguard the working conditions of journalists"

Publicerat tisdag 10 februari 2015 kl 19.44
Sveriges Radios vd Cilla Benkö på presskonferensen om mordet på Sveriges Radios Asienkorrespondent Nils Horner. FOTO: Mattias Ahlm/SR
Sveriges Radios vd Cilla Benkö på presskonferensen om mordet på Sveriges Radios Asienkorrespondent Nils Horner. FOTO: Mattias Ahlm/SR

Monday 9 February Cilla Benkö, Director General of Swedish Radio, was invited by the Swedish and Latvian foreign ministries to speak at an evening for freedom of the press, free formation of opinion and good working conditions for journalists in Brussels.
  Here is Cilla Benkö's speech about Swedish Radio's murdered foreign correspondent Nils Horner and the importance of having journalists who can work without risking being silenced in a democratic world.

Is it possible to be extremely well-informed and skillful , while at the same time down to earth and ordinary? Is it possible to be a perfectionist, while at the same time exceptionally flexible? And, is it possible to be a person with a great need of guarding your own integrity, while at the same time be full of compassion and interest in helping others?
   The answers to these questions is, YES

One such person was Nils Horner – Swedish Radio’s foreign correspondent who was murdered in cold blood in Kabul on the 11th of March 2014 while on duty covering the election in Afghanistan. There is a picture from Fukushima in Japan. Nils is sitting on the ground in neat Khaki trousers, a well-ironed shirt and a big shawl around his neck. All around him, chaos. The town simply does not exist anymore - only rubble and ruins.
   This is one of my favorite memories of Nils. This is who he was. The foreign correspondent.

Since 2001 Nils worked as a foreign correspondent for Swedish Radio - mainly covering Asia. He was a unique world reporter constantly on the move in order to quickly be where the action took place. Nils reported back home to Sweden from Afghanistan when the Taliban fell -  from Baghdad after the American invasion -  from the tsunami in 2004 - and from Japan after the earthquake.
   Nils' ambition was to capture the major course of events from the perspective of ordinary people. It was unthinkable for him to do journalistic reporting from behind a desk.

Very few of us have the understanding and insights that Nils had about the countries he covered. His knowledge made it possible for him to guide us in the big international issues. Very few of us give up our homes and devote our lives to constantly be on the move. Nils did so -  in his ambition to come as close as possible to ordinary people.

The 11th of March 2014 Nils Horner did what he did best. He was in place to cover an event of world importance. He was in Kabul to report on the up-coming election.
   In the morning he left his hotel room to meet ordinary people in a relatively safe and guarded street. He wanted  to gather material for a story. There and then - in broad daylight and in front of a crowd of people - Nils was shot in the head from behind and died before reaching hospital.
   Nils Horner was murdered while exercising his profession - which was to bring  the Swedish audience important voices from a country few of us otherwise would have had the same knowledge of.

For me it is extremely important that the killer of Nils 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 doubt it that the killing of Nils Horner will ever be solved, or that the guilty will be brought to justice. The prosecutor seems resigned to say the least.
   There was a rumor some weeks ago that they had caught a person in Kabul. A rumor that some hours later was clarified.
   This wasn´t true.

This is something worth reflecting on. According to statistics from The International News Safety Institute, 105 journalists were killed 2014. So far, in 2015 the number is as depressing – 22 killed journalists in the first four weeks.
   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 appears not to be solved. A report from UNESCO shows that of almost 600 journalists killed during the years 2006 to 2014 - no more than 6 percent have been solved.

Most of these killed journalists were not foreign correspondents as Nils was – they were local journalists. People struggling every day to be able to do their job as journalists in countries where freedom of the press and freedom of expression are far from the norm. These journalists often work under circumstances where it is to invite threats and sometimes even murder if one decides to scrutinize the powerful.
   More than 90% of these 600 killed journalists were local journalists.

Therefore - 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 like those of you who are here today, and the systems of justice all over the world, must also make their contribution. You can do that by actively stating your position and defending the rights of journalists to work in their profession.

I think that it is shameful that so little is done to safeguard the working conditions of journalists. Sending a clear signal after a terror attack in Paris is not enough. What I’m speaking about is the right of a journalist to do their everyday responsibility. Irrespective of whether they are foreign correspondents covering world events, or if they are local journalists uncovering the workings of society and scrutinizing the powerful in their home country.

I am not a politician. I can´t tell politicians what they should do. But I can encourage all of you to read a report called “Killing the Messenger” written already in 2007 by Richard Sambrook from the BBC. The recommendations in this report is – unfortunately -  still valid today.
   There ought to be more than enough reasons for politicians in well functioning democracies to challenge these truly horrible figures that I have just spoken about -  and to work towards finding ways of improving them.
   So, the event here this evening is a step in the right direction, and I want to thank you all for the privilege of speaking here today.

Journalists who do not have to fear, and who can work without risking being silenced are fundamental for a well functioning democracy.

Cilla Benkö
Director General, Swedish Radio
twitter.com/CillaBenko

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