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Media Consortium Launches Global Campaign to Protect Journalists

A consortium of 30 media organizations representing about 50,000 journalists worldwide is launching a global campaign for an International Convention to protect journalists in conflict zones, civil unrest and other situations. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from Geneva where PEC is based.

This has been a particularly deadly year for journalists. The Press Emblem Campaign reports 110 journalists in 27 countries have been killed this year, compared with 96 last year and 68 in 2005. This represents a 14 percent increase over the 2006 figure.

For the fifth year in a row, Iraq leads as the most dangerous place for journalists to work. The Press Emblem Campaign says 50 journalists have been killed in Iraq, followed by Somalia with eight and Sri Lanka with seven. Other countries cited include Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the Philippines.

Press Emblem Campaign President Hedayat Abdel Nabi, tells VOA these disturbing figures show an International Convention to Protect journalists is needed. Under the Geneva Conventions, she says journalists enjoy the same protections as civilians in conflict zones.

But, she notes since journalists often run greater risks than ordinary civilians, they are in need of greater protection.

"Since international law allows for a specialized convention for certain groups who are targets, then why not use that opening for journalists. That is the whole idea. Since, we cannot go on like that, I mean from 2005 to 2007, some 300 journalists have been killed. Is this acceptable? And, they have all been killed in conflict zones," she said.

The proposed convention deals with a number of serious issues affecting journalists. One is that of journalists who are targeted because of their political opinions or coverage of sensitive issues. A well-known case is that of the Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaia who was killed in October 2006.

The Secretary-General of The Press Emblem Campaign, Blaise Lempen, says impunity for killing journalists is great and must be ended. In the past 10 years, he says about 90 percent of these political assassinations have not been prosecuted. Under the draft convention, he says States are obliged to investigate and prosecute these crimes.

Hedayat Abdel Nabi says the draft convention also aims to increase protection for freelance journalists. She says they run the same risks as staff correspondents in conflict zones, but lack the support of media organizations.

"It will benefit definitely a freelance journalist in terms of compensation, insurance, in terms of bringing the perpetrators to trial. In terms of judgment of what happened. It is not going to be a story that is part of the news and dies the next day. The convention will make the issue of the protection of journalists a revolving story. It will not stop with the death or kidnapping of the journalist," she said.

The draft convention has been sent to representatives of U.N. member states. The Press Emblem Campaign says it expects to set up an informal Working Group next year to move the project toward formal negotiations.