This was said by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, at an event in support of press freedom held in Geneva this week. She urged all countries to do more to protect journalists - especially during the pandemic - to ensure they could do their work unhindered as what they were doing was saving lives.
“The work of the media is paramount…as it is an essential tool for officials to quickly learn where measures are being inadequately applied,” she is reported to have said in a statement on the United Nations’ website. The work of journalists highlighted what concerns were most important to people, she added.
In several countries there had been “increasing politicisation of the pandemic and efforts to blame its effects on political opponents, have led to threats, arrests and smear campaigns against journalists who maintain fact-based information about the spread of Covid-19 and the adequacy of measures to prevent it”.
“When journalists are targeted in the context of protests and criticism, these attacks are intended to silence all of civil society and this is of deep concern…Journalism enriches our understanding of every kind of political, economic and social issue; delivers crucial – and, in the context of this pandemic - life-saving information; and helps keep governance at every level, transparent and accountable.”
At a press conference after the event, Swiss President Simonetta Sommaruga echoed the High Commissioner’s concerns over threats to freedom of expression.
“The freedom of the Press is not something that you just have, it’s something that you have to defend and continue to defend.”
Last week Agnès Callamard, UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, said the lack of investigation into the killing of a journalist three years ago in South Sudan was indicative of a wider climate of hostility towards journalists in that country.
Ms Callamard, an independent UN human rights expert, was reported by the UN saying that the absence of a proper investigation set a “very dangerous signal” that journalists and media workers can be targeted with impunity.
“Three years is too long to leave a bereaved family without answers,” she said.
“Investigation into crimes committed against journalists – not only in South Sudan, but around the world – is a key element in preventing future attacks and ending impunity.”
In its report the UN said freelance journalist Christopher Allen, a British-American citizen, was killed by South Sudanese armed forces while working in the country in August 2017. An estimated ten other journalists have been killed during the civil war in South Sudan with none of their killers brought to justice.
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