Nils Horner on assignment. Photo: Swedish Radio

"Time to stand up for journalists’ rights"

The case of correspondent Nils Horner highlights the lack of justice for reporters killed on assignment, argues Cilla Benkö, director general of Swedish Radio, in an op-ed.

Nils Horner, one of Sweden’s best-known and most respected foreign correspondents, was shot and killed on assignment on March 11th this year in Kabul, Afghanistan.

He had worked for many years for Swedish Radio, which of all Swedish media organisations puts the largest resources into covering foreign affairs through its network of 21 correspondents all over the world.

As director general of Swedish Radio, it is extremely important for me that the killer of Nils Horner is caught and brought to trial. It should not be possible to kill a journalist without consequences, wherever such a crime is committed. 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 statistics from the International News Safety Institute (Insi), 96 journalists or media workers have been killed on assignment so far in 2014. The latest was a citizen journalist murdered in Tamaulipas, Mexico. In a world that is becoming ever more challenging and difficult to cover, it is essential that we  in the traditional media organisations do not succumb to 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 unlikely to be solved. A report from Unesco, as yet unpublished, indicates that of 593 journalists killed during 2006-2014, little more than six percent have been solved. The overwhelming majority of these close to 600 journalists were men. More than 90 per cent were local journalists, killed while working in their own countries.

It is clearly not enough that media organisations take the responsibility of investing in foreign coverage, or that a large amount of local journalists actually risk their lives in their daily work simply be exercising freedom of expression. Politicians and the systems of justice all over the world must also contribute, by actively stating their position and defending the rights of journalists to do their jobs.

It is shameful that so little is done to safeguard the working conditions of journalists. Unesco's report indicates that, especially in the Arab world and many African countries, deaths are frighteningly common and there is a very low rate of solving cases of killed journalists. The figure is between one and three percent, compared to approximately 40 percent in Europe. But even there a majority of cases remain unsolved.

There ought to be more than enough reasons for politicians to challenge these truly lamentable percentages and work towards finding ways of improving them. Fearless journalists who can work without risking being silenced are fundamental for functioning democracies.

I would like to challenge and urge governments all round Europe to act. Not least the new government of Sweden, which has brought together democracy, culture and media issues in a single ministry, under a minister of culture and democracy.

It is also high time to link Swedish foreign aid to this important issue. Swedish aid can help support the establishment of a free press and strong public service media 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 on 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 six percent of this year's close to 100 cases will be solved. Horner must not become yet another number in these dismal statistics. This is important for us, for freedom of expression and for democracy.

Cilla Benkö is director general of Swedish Radio and a member of the executive board of the European Broadcasting Union. A Swedish version of this op-ed was published in tabloid Expressen.

Our journalism is based on credibility and impartiality. Swedish Radio is independent and not affiliated to any political, religious, financial, public or private interests.
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