Malta death shows 'open season' on journalists

7:37 pm on 1 November 2017

Opinion - The car bomb killing of Maltese investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia shocked many people around the world, not just in Malta.

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Daphne Capuana Galizia was killed by a car bomb. Photo: supplied

There appears little doubt that Galizia was killed because of her reporting into wrongdoing in Malta and her constant criticism of powerful figures in that country. There are concerns too that the police in Malta will not properly investigate her killing.

But, as shocking as her murder was, unfortunately it is not unusual.

According to UNESCO 932 journalists were killed for doing their job from 2006 to 2016. Worse, it also reports that their murderers are brought to justice in less than 10 percent of these cases.

All too often there is no investigation or just a cursory inquiry into a killing.

In an effort to put a spotlight on violence against journalists - after campaigning by journalists' unions - the United Nations made 2 November the Day to End Impunity.

A candlelight vigil in Malta in tribute to late journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.

A candlelight vigil in Malta in tribute to late journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia. Photo: AFP / FILE

But the International Journalists' Federation, which represents about 600,000 journalists around the world, says little has changed.

"The levels of violence around the world make a mockery of the high minded initiatives, such as the UN Day to End Impunity. As long as they are not acted upon by holding accountable those who commit these crimes there will remain an open season on journalists and media professionals," says the IFJ's president Philippe Leruth.

In our own region, the Asia-Pacific, the situation is dire. In the past decade 237 journalists have been killed and only 17 cases, or 7 percent, have been resolved. Today the IJF starts a three-week campaign to end impunity.

The campaign is timed to end on 23 November, the eighth anniversary of the worst attack on journalists in the region. In the Maguindanao massacre in the Philippines 32 journalists were killed and no one has been held responsible.

While murders get most publicity there are also multiple physical attacks on journalists and few of them are ever investigated or the attackers ever charged.

Journalists' safety was a key issue discussed at a journalists workshop in Port Vila, Vanuatu, last week. I attended the IFJ workshop as the representative of E tū, the union which represents journalists in New Zealand.

The workshop brought together journalists from Fiji, Vanuatu, New Caledonia and Papua New Guinea. Safety remains a serious concern in many Pacific Island states and the Port Vila meeting committed to running a series of campaigns in the Pacific to promote media freedom, journalists' safety and to end sexual harassment and violence against women journalists.

Why should we worry? Firstly, journalists, like anyone, should be free to go to work free from fear of attack. Protecting journalists has a wider benefit for society.

A free media, and therefore democracy, cannot flourish if journalists work in fear. If citizens want to know what is happening in their communities and if they want the the powerful held to account then journalists need protection.

That will not happen until authorities take journalists' safety seriously and bring to justice those who attack and kill journalists. While this culture of impunity is tolerated journalists, journalism, democracy and good governance all remain under threat.

* Brent Edwards is the journalists' representative at E tū.