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UN Spearheads Drive to Protect Journalists After Deadly 2012

  • Henry Ridgwell

2012 was the deadliest year on record for journalists, with over 100 killed in their line of work. The United Nations is spearheading a new drive to improve safety for journalists around the world.

When shells fell on the Syrian city of Homs in February 2012, a building used by foreign media took a direct hit - killing renowned Sunday Times correspondent Marie Colvin, along with French journalist Remi Ochlik. Photographer Paul Conroy was injured.

The incident was among the most high profile of 2012. But there were many more fatal attacks on members of the media. Many of them were specifically targeted for their reporting.

“You have not only this consistent rise in the number of killings of journalists to stop them reporting about crime, corruption and abuse of power, but in the last couple of years, especially in north Africa, from Somalia to Syria, you’ve got war again," said
William Horsley, who is from the Centre for Freedom of the Media at the University of Sheffield.

Indian journalists walk with their two wheelers at the funeral procession of fellow journalist Bwizamani Singh in Imphal, India, Tuesday, Dec. 25, 2012.

Indian journalists walk with their two wheelers at the funeral procession of fellow journalist Bwizamani Singh in Imphal, India, Tuesday, Dec. 25, 2012.

Exact figures vary, but the U.N. says over 100 journalists were killed doing their job in 2012. Late last year at a conference in Vienna, the United Nations launched its Action Plan on the Safety of Journalists and Combating Impunity.

“What is needed is the public and the press to make the world’s populations understand the link between the killing of journalists and the undermining of the rule of law and stability in whole societies," said Horsley.

At an October symposium at the BBC College of Journalism, members of the world’s media gathered to discuss attacks on journalists.

Nearly 20 Somali journalists were killed in 2012 alone. And Omar Faruk Osman of the Somali National Union of Journalists says some of the murders have been brutal.

“Not only journalists are killed in Somalia by bullets, they are also killed by beheading. In our lives we have never seen journalists beheaded," said Osman.

Pakistani media are also under threat for their coverage of schoolgirl activist Malala Yousafzai -- now discharged from a British hospital after being shot in the head by the Taliban.

“The Taliban have announced open war against Pakistani media because we are supporting the little girl Malala Yousafzai," said Hamid Mir of Geo TV in Pakistan.

Bob Tyrer, associate editor of the Sunday Times of London, wants much tougher legal protection for the media.

“I think that the killing of journalists should be a crime against humanity," he said.

American freelance reporter James Foley has not been seen since he was kidnapped by unidentified gunmen in Syria in November. It is another reminder of the dangers of the job - dangers that appear to be getting worse.
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