JOURNALISTS AND HUMAN RIGHTS


In this so called information age we rely to a great extent on journalists to provide us with knowledge about what is happening in the outside world. In reporting of human rights abuses we are often solely dependent on heroic journalists such as John Pilger. They travel, often unescorted, into the war zones and areas controlled by suspicious and hostile military, sending back stories and pictures of mass graves, massacres and torture.

Journalists often face death in these situations and can increase their chances of survival by limiting their investigations to "safe havens", and travelling under the protection and guidance of government "public relations" staff. Too often, however, by increasing their safety they move toward the bias of their protector.

Their fears are very real. In 1994 approximately 115 journalists were killed worldwide. In China journalists who meet even moderate standards of honesty and professionalism are imprisoned, accused of spying and anti-social activities. Independent journalists in Indonesia are victimised and their papers regularly shut down with the approval of government sponsored journalists.

While we rely on journalists for the news, they rely on us for providing an atmosphere in which they can meet their objectives without personal risk. We can all take part in this process through the Amnesty International's campaigns for human rights. Amnesty's journalist's network highlights cases where journalists face abuses and may end up tortured or dead for what they write. Network coordinator, Bill O'Bryne, says that in any country it is the local journalists who face the greatest risks. International journalists have more clout and governments that can use diplomatic measures to protect them. Local Kurdish papers, for example, are under constant threat in Turkey.

Also actively involved in the fight for human rights for journalists is the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ). This organisation represents nearly 400,000 journalists in 90 countries worldwide. The Human Rights Action Group plays a small part in providing what the IFJ believes is necessary for a safe environment for journalists and democracy by promoting "public awareness on the issue of freedom of expression, human rights, social conditions and the safety of journalists" and assisting "in the publication and circulation of material and information on violations of journalists' and media rights."

Richard Davis.

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