The United Nations has declared 2 November as the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists, recognising those whose lives have been cut short or destroyed because of their commitment to truth, justice and accountability.
Over the past 14 years, close to 1,200 journalists have been killed for reporting the news and bringing information to the public. Many, many more have disappeared or been subject to torture, intimidation or harassment. Even more worrying is the fact that crimes against journalists and media workers are rarely investigated, prosecuted or punished. That shocking level of impunity sends out a clear and chilling message: journalists will not be protected; their killers will not be brought to justice.
Member States of the Commonwealth have proclaimed, loudly and clearly, their commitment to human rights, to the rule of law, and to ‘peaceful, open dialogue and the free flow of information, including through a free and responsible media’. The 2.4 billion citizens of the Commonwealth have a right to demand that these commitments be implemented in a meaningful way: that their governments take decisive action to prevent violence against journalists and bring perpetrators to justice.
The battle for media freedom must be fought on many fronts. Across the Commonwealth assaults on media freedom are becoming more commonplace and more severe. They include not just attacks on journalists but also repressive legislation, unjustifiable censorship, misinformation and other forms of information control. This trend is contributing to an erosion of democratic culture and diminished government accountability at a time when such accountability has never been more important—or more urgent.
While civil society will inevitably be at the forefront of the battle for media freedom, it cannot act alone. The Commonwealth: its member States and its institutions must step forward to protect those values which are fundamental to the Commonwealth’s existence; its legitimacy and its credibility.
Dr Anne T. Gallagher AO is Director-General of the Commonwealth Foundation.
The Commonwealth Foundation is running a series of online events: People of the Commonwealth: Critical Conversations. A conversation on media freedom in the Commonwealth is planned for January 2021. Register to participate in the series here.