Cilla Benkö: We must end impunity for crimes against journalists

Every fourth day, a journalist is killed. In nine cases of ten the guilty goes unpunished. Every attack on a journalist is an attack on our democracy, writes Cilla Benkö, Director General of Swedish Radio.

Debatt: Detta är ett debattinlägg med syfte att påverka. Åsikterna är skribentens egna, inte Sveriges Radios.

Today, 2 November, is by UN proclaimed the ‘International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists’.  It is a day that brings attention to the fact that it is still possible to enjoy impunity for crimes against journalists. According to UNESCO, 930 journalists were killed between 2006 and 2016 – every fourth day a journalist was attacked and killed.

2017 follows the same violent pattern. In January, two journalists were killed in a bombing in Afghanistan. In May, an award-winning journalist investigating organized crime was found dead in Mexico. And just a week ago, a radio journalist in the Philippines was killed; likely due to a political corruption scandal the journalist was investigating.

Unfortunately, statistics also show that the perpetrators in nine cases of ten are not going to be sentenced for the crime. This is very serious as it implies that media can continuously be harassed and attacked. If we want a free and open society, we cannot allow this to continue. Every attack on a journalist is an attack on our democracy.

Afghanistan, Mexico, Yemen, Iraq and Syria are the countries where most journalists were killed in 2016. These are countries that are far away from us in Sweden, but that does not mean we can ignore the problems. We must continue to pay attention to attacks that take place all over the world. Sweden should also use international forums to put pressure on countries where impunity for crimes against journalists is allowed.

For journalists working in conflict areas, many times with great personal risks, we need to ensure safe working conditions. Swedish Radio, together with a number of leading Swedish media companies, earlier this year agreed on a joint declaration of intent on a number of measures that will strengthen the security of employees and freelancers. This is a clear signal that we prioritize safe working conditions and we will continue to work together on these issues.

We must also not forget that we domestically are experiencing an increased number of threats and harassment against journalists. A recent study by the University of Gothenburg, on behalf of the Swedish government, shows that every fourth journalist was exposed to threats or harassment last year. This is an unacceptably high level. The action plan adopted by the government is a step in the right direction, but more needs to be done.

Today, I want to put attention to the ‘International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists’. We must however not forget that journalists around the world live with threats and risks of being killed every day - just by doing their job.

The day we stop paying attention to this is the day when we give full reign to those who want to silence critical voices.