Tell us a bit about yourself and how you first started working on the issue of journalists’ safety.
My name is Silvia Chocarro, and I am from Madrid, Spain. I studied journalism convinced that it is fundamental for democratic societies. After having worked as a journalist and in the media development field, I joined UNESCO and was part of the team responsible for the development of the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity. The first question I asked when I was assigned to this project was what had been the role of the UN in the past, and realized nothing was written, so five years later I did my PhD dissertation on the role of the UN in the promotion of the safety of journalists since 1945 to 2015.
How do you define journalists’ safety?
The safety of journalists is the existence of a safe environment for journalists to do their job. This includes strong international human rights standards and effective application at the local level, appropriate legislation and policies to ensure free and independent media, strong rule of law and access to justice, decent and safe working conditions, and access to protection training, resources and tools.
All these measures should also be designed to ensure equal access and enjoyment by everyone no matter their gender, race, class, etc. This is why I have dedicated the last two years developing the project Equally Safe: Towards a feminist approach to the safety of journalists.
Which threats do you perceive as being the biggest ones to journalists’ safety today?
Wherever there is an authoritarian or illiberal State, there is a big threat to journalists, although journalists are under attack everywhere in the world. They are confronted with intimidation, kidnapping, enforced disappearances, arbitrary detention, torture, and murder.
On one hand, many State actors are trying to silence journalism for not being held accountable, and on the other, organized crime threatens anyone covering their illegal activities; in many cases, State actors and organized crime are interlinked.
In recent years, we have seen more and more private actors silencing journalists, in many cases misusing and abusing the law to do so, for example, through SLAPPS (Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation), which has become a big threat to journalism.
Another increasing threat is online harassment and abuse, which includes a component of gender discrimination when it comes to women and various gender and sexual identities. There is nothing virtual about online harassment, and one can find some recommendations in the resource guide I led for the OSCE.
I am also more and more worried about transnational attacks, where States are acting in others to silence journalists in exile.
What would you say is your greatest personal achievement in the area of journalists’ safety?
I am very proud of my contribution to the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity. It was the first ever UN strategy in this matter since 1945, and it has sparked many advancements in this field. For example, right after its approval, the first ever UN Human Rights Council Resolution on the safety of journalists was passed, and one year later, the first UN General Assembly on the matter since the 70s. Since then, more than a dozen resolutions have been passed by the UN and UNESCO. This, coupled with the hard work of civil society and journalists' associations, has put the issue of the safety of journalists high on the international agenda, which was not the case before the UN Plan.
What is your biggest regret in the area of journalists’ safety?
I think one of the main frustrations is the pervasive impunity of crimes against journalists. While all actors involved in the fight for the safety of journalists have put a lot of effort into developing legislation and policies, ensuring justice, and training judges and law enforcement, impunity continues to be the norm.
Is there something more that could be done for journalists’ safety, and by whom?
There is an unexplored field of work in which I am very interested and wrote a paper and this is the link between media and information literacy and the safety of journalists. I believe that media information literacy can not only contribute to fighting disinformation but also attacks against journalists, including disinformation and denigration campaigns against them. The more the society understands the fundamental role of journalism in democratic societies, the more it would defend those who do journalism.
What could academia contribute to the process of improving journalists’ safety?
I believe academia is a fundamental actor; this is why I have been a member of the Center for Freedom of the Media (CFOM) at the University of Sheffield. Civil society, journalists´ associations, media outlets and journalists have the questions, and academia could help us to find the answers.
What is your evaluation of the implementation of the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity? Do any changes need to be made to it?
I think the UN Plan did put the issue of the safety of journalists high on the international agenda, and this has had an impact on the safety of journalists, which I think is positive even though it is sometimes challenging to visualize it when we see how many journalists are being attacked worldwide.
Are you interested in collaborating with other people/organisations working in this area, and if yes, on what specific issues?
I am always open to collaborating to promote the safety of journalists. Multi-stakeholder approaches to the protection of journalists are the most successful and sustainable. I am particularly interested in working with academia and putting into practice the link between media literacy and the safety of journalists.
Anything else you would like to share with us?
Let’s be clear: violence against journalists can stop. It ends with accountability. If States fulfil their duty to protect journalists, if States meet their international commitments, journalists will be able to do their jobs freely and safely.
Any suggestions for other champions of journalists’ safety that we can interview or for content that can be incorporated into the website?
Pedro Vaca, IACHR Special Rapporteur on the safety of journalists
Erol Onderoglu. https://ifex.org/faces/erol-onderoglu/
Agned Callamard, Secretary General of Amnesty International, https://ifex.org/faces/agnes-callamard-a-fierce-champion-of-human-rights/