Cilla Benkö: "Journalists must be able to carry out their work in safety"
Today, Cilla Benkö, Swedish Radio's Director General, attended the UNESCO conference "News Organizations Standing Up for the Safety of Media Professionals" in Paris. Below, she writes about the tragic fact that 111 journalists were killed last year and the threat to freedom of speech that this poses.
111 – remember this figure. This is how many journalists and colleagues such as fixers were killed in 2015. A figure which is unacceptably high. Because this isn't merely about the fate of individuals and grieving relatives; this is about a threat to freedom of speech and thereby to democracy.
Unfortunately the fact that more than 100 journalists have been killed in a year is nothing unusual. The era is long past when journalists could carry out their work unmolested, even in extremely dangerous and difficult conditions. Today, journalists have become targets for hatred, threats, violence and kidnapping. And the new figures for 2015 from the International News Safety Institute (INSI) confirm the growing trend, which has unfortunately become more the rule than the exception.
In many of the world's countries, attacks are taking place almost daily on freedom of speech at the same time that we in Sweden are celebrating 250 years of legislation ensuring freedom of the press and of expression.
For example, we all remember the attack on the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. This means that for the first time an essentially peaceful western country is high on the list of journalists killed; a list that is not unexpectedly topped by Syria.
This has to stop. Those who kill journalists must be brought to justice and punished.
It's easy to believe that journalists killed in service were simply at the wrong place at the wrong time. We all know that someone who chooses to travel to a country at war or who reports from a high-risk area is exposing themselves to danger. This is why, for example, Swedish Radio's correspondents receive top-quality security training and why we also sometimes carry out essential and extensive security assessments before a correspondent travels to a well-known high-risk area. Sometimes as an employer we also say No. But we can't protect ourselves from pure evil. Something we learned from painful experience when Swedish Radio's correspondent Nils Horner was murdered in Kabul.
But the INSI figures also show something else, which we talk about far too little. The vast majority of the journalists who lost their lives were resident journalists, i.e. local journalists who spent their working lives trying to bring to justice those responsible for criminal acts, misuse of power and corruption. Around half of the journalists killed died in countries which are not currently at war, and the vast majority of those killed last year were shot.
It is outrageous and deeply tragic that almost all of those who have carried out these terrible acts have done so without being punished. Very few are ever caught and very few are punished. Nine out of ten perpetrators go free.
And this is met with an appalling silence. For this reason, I see it as my duty to make sure that these figures, which are presented year after year, don't get swallowed up by that silence.
I have chosen to highlight them – and to fight for change.
Today this will take place during a major conference organised by UNESCO in Paris. The theme for the debate is the impunity of those who kill journalists.
But of course this is not enough. The 2015 figures which have now been presented must also be even more the subject of political focus.
In this special anniversary year, Swedish representatives must bring up the question in all international forums and contexts. Both within the framework of the European collaboration and internationally under the aegis of the UN. Swedish aid can also be linked to this important issue.
Aid money can be given for the construction of a free press and effective public service broadcasting, but also to support organisations who provide security training for journalists and their colleagues. Organisations which can train local journalists free of charge thanks to our aid. In addition, during every state visit, the question of the country's freedom of speech and of the press should be brought up, as well as the number of journalists who have lost their lives or are in prison.
Journalists must be able to carry out their work in safety. Otherwise the evil powers who want to control our world view will be victorious. Frightened journalists become silent journalists and alternative voices will not be heard.
In such a situation, everyone loses. There is a risk that important analysis of war situations will no longer be carried out. Important debates will not take place and important events will remain unreported. This will lead to a loss of democracy in many countries while here at home we celebrate our own fundamental law.
We must not accept this situation!
Cilla Benkö, Director General, Swedish Radio