Lobbying for the protection of journalists

If, 13 years from now, journalists are to be safe in every country and information publicly accessible, the UN member states still have a lot of work to do. That ambitious goal is actually one of the Sustainable Development Goals (goal 16.10 to be precise) that government leaders agreed upon in 2015. And they must be achieved by 2030.

Free Press Unlimited supports the UN via UNESCO to remind governments of this important promise and trains organisations to do the same in their country. In 2017, for example, we provided information for UNESCO-reports on Mali and Bangladesh. We also successfully lobbied alongside UNESCO and our partners for the governments in Bangladesh, Iraq, Nepal, Pakistan, Nigeria, Somalia and Ukraine to report on how they intend to prosecute the murderers of journalists. In 2017, the number of countries that met this obligation increased from 65% to 68%.

Also, in the Netherlands and Europe we interfered in policies that threatened to limit press freedom. Hot issue last year was the Intelligence and Security Services Act. We organised a public campaign with Bits of Freedom and Internet Society Netherlands, wrote op-eds with the Dutch Society of Chief Editors and held discussions with members of parliament. Free Press Unlimited is not opposed to the Intelligence and Security Services Act as such; our main criticism is that the law undermines the protection of journalists’ sources. Although this criticism is shared by MPs and has led to amendments, unfortunately (at this point) parliament adopted the law unchanged.

Our lobby for more political attention for the safety of journalists worldwide was more successful. On 2 November, ‘International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists’, Diane Foley and Leon Willems spoke in the House of Representatives during a special procedure organised by D66. Break the cycle of impunity when it comes to violence against journalists, they argued. Diane Foley is the mother of journalist James Foley who was killed in 2014 by ISIS and she also spoke during Free Press Live. Two weeks later D66 successfully submitted a motion for a fund that journalists in need can call upon for legal aid, insurance or (safety) training.

International coalition

Safety of journalists was without doubt the most important theme for which Free Press Unlimited lobbied internationally in 2017. To coordinate our work and our lobby better on this issue, we set up the Civil Society Safety Coalition together ARTICLE 19 and International Media Support. International partners such as Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Reporters Sans Frontières (RSF) and International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) also joined. Now, the coalition consists of about 20 organisations and others are interested in joining. Together, we successfully lobbied for more emphasis on prosecution in the UN Plan for the Safety of Journalists. But the coalition does not only want to influence international policy. We also want to more effectively coordinate our activities for the safety of journalists. The idea is instead of all training the same journalists in a country, we should pool our resources. And, not unimportant for Free Press Unlimited: how do we create a direct link between influencing policy and the work we do on the ground with media organisations and journalists? Difficult questions, but the coalition partners are convinced that we can only take significant steps to protect journalists if we work together.