The lives of journalists are becoming increasingly risked. Though there has been sufficient responses from the global community, it is still not enough, and crimes against journalists continues to go unpunished, writes Vicki Prais. 

The Trump Administration has almost left the building. "The Donald" will be remembered for many things, not least his enmity towards the press, and his relentless promotion of the term "fake news". In his worldview, the media are the "enemy of the people".

Trump's demonisation of the media is emblematic of a wider corrosive relationship between the press and authoritarian or populist regimes. These regimes' deeply divisive and incendiary rhetoric jeopardises media freedom and puts journalists' lives at risk. In August 2020, President Bolsonaro of Brazil told a journalist: "I want to punch you in the face" when questioned about his financial affairs. The stakes are high.

The importance of a free press and the Fourth Estate's power to provide checks and balances cannot be understated. The right to freedom of expression and freedom of the media are enshrined in international law, such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Public debate and factual information is imperative – we turn to journalists for serious, credible research and stories of integrity. Yet, journalists are increasingly risking their lives to get the story: the Committee to Protect Journalists reports that 23 journalists have, to date, been killed in 2020. Some 248 journalists were imprisoned in 2019. Journalists have become easy targets for "keyboard warriors" subject to online and offline harassment, cyberstalking, threats, targeted surveillance, physical violence and even murder. We need only look to the tragic cases of Daphne Caruana Galizia, a Maltese investigative journalist and Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi Arabian dissident and columnist for the Washington Post, both murdered for simply doing their jobs. More journalists are now killed for their investigative work exposing corruption and political wrongdoing than in conflict zones.

In some countries, intimidation against journalists extends to the judicial, legal and economic sphere. The rise of "fake news" laws around the world is deeply concerning as states increasingly weaponise the law against the media. Such laws criminalise journalists for spreading "fake news" which governments deem to threaten security or disrespect the state. The pandemic has provided a perfect excuse for states to silence critical voices and, in many instances, it suits regimes to conflate "journalist" with "criminal." In Russia, for example, President Putin amended the Criminal Code in March 2020 to criminalise the spread of "false information" on matters of public safety, including COVID-19. These offences carry financial penalties and imprisonment terms.

Female journalists have been at the epicentre of abuse and are regularly exposed to misogyny online including rape threats, doxing and visceral character assassination. Similarly, LGBTQI and journalists of colour have been subject to online harassment. Some have bravely fought back, such as Brazilian investigative journalist Patricia Campos Mello who filed civil lawsuits against the Brazilian President for making sexual insinuations against her.

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The global community has stepped up its efforts. In 2016, the Council of Europe adopted a resolution on the protection of journalism and safety of journalists, providing guidance to member states regarding prevention, protection, prosecution and raising awareness around the issue. The Council followed this in June 2020 with an implementation guide to assist member states, 'How to protect journalists and other media actors'.

The UN Human Rights Council passed a resolution in October 2020 on the safety of journalists, addressing a number of issues including gender-based attacks, and the impact of COVID-19 on the health and safety of journalists. UNESCO has taken the lead in providing practical assistance, support and training to journalists through the recently launched Global Media Defence Fund.

Through other global initiatives such as the Media Freedom Coalition, a partnership of over 40 countries, governments have committed to protect journalists through the global pledge on media freedom.

There are also seeds of good practice domestically. In July 2020, the UK Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport convened its first meeting of the National Committee for the Safety of Journalists ? a multi stakeholder forum to ensure that journalists can work in a safe environment.

Yet, globally, crimes against journalists continue to go unpunished. States cannot turn a blind eye. Media lawyer Sophie Argent expresses deep concern about this issue, "The worldwide impunity for the targeted killing of journalists is the ultimate injustice…and remains one of my biggest concerns about the lack of protection for both the media and the consequences it has for our global society as a whole."

The sad fact remains that, according to UNESCO, nine out of 10 journalist murders go unpunished.

The way forward is a challenging one. The Washington Post's official slogan, "Democracy Dies in Darkness" is a powerful reminder of the critical role the media continues to play. On 2 November 2020, we commemorate the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists; let this be a moment to pause, reflect and urge states to take much needed action to strengthen legal safeguards and robustly prosecute crimes against journalists.

At the very least, we owe it to journalists around the world .

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